If we’ve learnt nothing else from the internet, it’s that it’s tricky to say just who owns what.
But while piracy has run rampant on the worldwide web pretty well since its inception, you’d think it would be more difficult to take an entire website.
Yeah, apparently not…
Jean-Noël Frydman is a French-born US citizen who was an early adopter of this so-called ‘internet’.
Wanting a place to talk about all things French with his fellow lovers of the country, he went out and purchased ‘France.com’ way back in 1994.
Over the next 20 years, he built a business around the sought-after domain, often collaborating with the French government. However, in 2015 the French national government began legal proceedings against Mr Frydman.
Then, in September 2017 – armed with a ruling from the Paris Court of Appeals that said France.com was a violation of the nation’s trademark law – the government took their gripe to domain host Web.com.
In March of this year, the outcome became apparent, as Mr Frydman was unceremoniously stripped of the domain. What’s more, he said Web.com simply handed control of it over to the French government, without so much as an email to inform him of their decision – let alone compensation for loss of his business.
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“I’m probably [one of Web.com’s] oldest customers, I’ve been with them for 24 years,” Frydman told Ars Technica.
“There’s never been any cases against France.com, and they just did that without any notice. I’ve never been treated like that by any company anywhere in the world. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.”
While it’s somewhat understandable that the French government would feel they are the rightful owners of the domain, well, quick and the dead. Mr Frydman took a punt and bought a domain before the internet had really caught on – and his gamble paid off, with Frydman building a business around it.
As a result, he’s filed his own lawsuit in Virginia in an attempt to regain control of the domain, accusing France of “reverse domain-name hijacking”.
The civil complaint reads, in part, “Defendants did not approach Plaintiff to purchase or license the domain, the trademark, or Plaintiff’s underlying business and goodwill.
“Instead, in 2015, Defendants misused the French judicial system to seize the domain from Plaintiff without compensation, under the erroneous theory that Defendants were inherently entitled to take the domain because it included the word ‘France’.”
He’s also set up unfairfrance.com, a website where he gives an extensive timeline of his work with the French government and encourages readers to “judge for yourself if we have operated for the last 20+ without authorization form [sic] the State or France and/or its tourism agency”.