If there is one matter that defines the rights of domainers in the commerce world today, and challenges it at the same time, it is the France.com domain grab. That is to say, the domain name France.com was snatched by its vendor, Web.com and taken to another owner, the government of France. Apparently the registrar Web.com turned over control of the domain to the French government without due notice to the owner, Jean-Noel Frydman. Thus far, WIPO and ICANN have not made themselves clear on their standing on this theft.
And many in the domain world consider this a theft. Frydman was not a “squatter”, stealing righteous traffic that would have naturally come somewhere else. Frydman worked on various websites and other entities always without damage to the French nation or to any other entity within France. In fact, there is probably no other cause to French persons as the promotion of tourist dollars. Except that of the right of the individual and justice that comes to him. But in the domain world, a non-copyrighted name does not have standing in the “snatch” game.
The geographical jurisdiction may not yet exist over intellectual property in the domain space, especially for an American company (France.com) that has existed for twenty years. Many top-level dot-coms of proper geo names exists owned by corporate or private entities and parties foreign to that name’s own geographic country. Names such as Jordan.com and India.com are simply owned and operated in some context that may or may not relate to that country name. There has been no crash-and-burn land grab for country names by the government of those proper countries, other than France.com.
Need the owners of geographic names worldwide fear for a decrease in portfolio value due to such unsteady mores in the Ethersphere? Many in the domaining world feel not only that Network Solutions has been compromised here (and not for the first time) but that the “transfer” of France.com to the government of France was done illegally and without due financial consideration. In other cases where geographic name ownership was pursued, compensation was given (e.g., Florida.com). So, how come Web.com jumped the gun and awarded the domain without a probative debate window with formal time deadlines? The small print that many domain buyers skip over when purchasing a domain will have had the details concerning this type of matter inside the boilerplate.
It has not yet been proven acceptably as to why this American man was able to lose property to a French government law. And Frydman claims to have operated this domain name online on websites and for various uses in good faith for 20 years. That is a lot of bona fides to leave on the table by a quick whisk away of an intellectual property without due process. Although Frydman was born in France, that does not mean an American client of a French registrar lapses domain ownership overnight. Except, in the case of Web.com, under Network Solutions, it does.
In the matter of France.com, many domainers are up in arms, for good reason. Is the market for buying and selling of geographic domain names and the operation thereof sliding out from under them? There is concern from many quarters that this owner has been taken advantage of unfairly. ICANN and WIPO should step forward now.
Furthermore, it is the case that many domains have been yanked unfairly from their moorings in other instances by complicated legal maneuverings. But registrar representatives and other market watchers have always come away with the impression that these struggles were based on copyright infringement or other issues. Today, with France.com, domainers do not see a formal relationship to strict ownership policy of a name and the lengths to which an entity, even a government of a greedy foreign power, will go to snatching a person‘s domain name for its powers of traffic.
Why is the France.com grab so troubling? This significance is what happens to the original owner of the domain in this case. The owner , a American man, owned and operated the domain in good faith for many years. Then without notice the host Web.com changed the account details and delivered control of the domain to a third party. And not just any third party, the government of France! Many domainers are worried lest this be come a trend. And many domain owners are not legally capable of mounting a complex multiyear brawl in the courts. Therefore this might spark a flurry of land grabs for like-minded countries whose top level domain names are owned by foreign entities working in good faith to promote their domains for compensation.
The import of this is long-reaching. Domainers foster belief and security in their registrars keeping their names locked down. But this troubling grab of France.com may prove a threat to that security. Due to the main premise that many domains and their extensions are in fact country names and country Sub-TLD’s derived from real estate around the world, copycat lawsuits and grabs might ensue. if the precedent is set, many domainers could be deprived of serious five-figure income overnight without warning.
In many business and real estate markets, possession is nine tenths of the law. In fact, in this case, domain possession was ten tenths of the law. This owner had owned the domain since 1994, and operated it as a general tourist type site referrer. Now, the French government is using it as a traffic magnet for their own country code sub-TLD, .Fr. Hence the real motive. Since the domain was well-developed, this is basically traffic hijacking as well. No wonder many domainers are crying foul.
The question remains as to why the French authorities and the appropriate bureau within France did not simply make an offer in good faith and buy the domain. If the lucrative motive overcame French legal sense of fair play, the domain world should take careful note of what the institutions such as WIPO and ICANN do, or do not do, in the coming months concerning this domain “theft”. The concept of exploiting domain transfer opportunities as sneaky overnight “grabs” and who is doing the exploiting is an idea that needs serious exploration in the domain space.