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France seizes france.com from man who's had it since 1994 (arstechnica.com)
491 points by coobird 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 224 comments

The courts, in the USA, have found that domain names are not property, instead they are like telephone numbers:


The court found that under the California tariffs, rules, and regulations applicable to public utilities, and under the terms of the contracts, the debtors had no “proprietary right in the number.”



...under Virginia law, the user of a telephone number or domain name does not have a property interest in that phone number or domain name.


Governments have the right to assign to themselves any telephone number they wish, and reserve ranges of phone numbers for themselves, therefore it makes sense that they can do the same to domain names.

If people felt strongly about this issue, the law could be changed, but as of right now, under current law, this does not appear to be theft.

We may argue that domain names are different from phone numbers because they are recognisable. They carry trademarks, and unlike phone numbers, are often the way we remember of an internet facing person or company. Also, the practical consequences of losing a phone number are much tamer than that of losing a domain name.

I'm not sure the courts would hold the same conclusions for domain names and phone numbers. While even if the latter is not property, the former could be treated as intellectual property. Though in this case, that would be one more reason to give the domain name to the French government…

> We may argue that domain names are different from phone numbers because they are recognisable. They carry trademarks, and unlike phone numbers, are often the way we remember of an internet facing person or company.

> Call JG Wentworth- 877-CASH-NOW!

> So ladies, if ya' butt is round, and you want a Triple-X throw down, dial 1 900-MIX-A-LOT and kick them nasty thoughts. Baby got back!

> I pity the foo' who don't use 1 800-COLLECT

> Jenny Jenny, don't change your number: 8-6-7-5-3-0-9!

> Save big bucks on every call- dial 1 800-CALL-ATT

And that's off the top of my head, many of which I haven't heard for 15 or more years.

I would argue that with a phone number, the letters are explicitly tied to the address whereas a domain is more or less key value pair for an ip address.

> We may argue that domain names are different from phone numbers because they are recognisable. They carry trademarks, and unlike phone numbers, are often the way we remember of an internet facing person or company.

This isn't unlike how phone numbers used to be until 10-20 years ago (and still are for many people today, outside of tech circles).

Off the top of my head, I can rattle off at least six different phone numbers for businesses which I've never used (and some of which don't even exist anymore), simply because they chose a phone number that spelled out something memorable and relevant, and then used that heavily in their promotional materials and advertising, the same way you would for a domain name or app name today.

Heck Googling just one, I found a Youtube documentary that chronicles the 40-year history of jingles associated with one of those numbers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDv8zqpl8mI

> Also, the practical consequences of losing a phone number are much tamer than that of losing a domain name.

That's absolutely not true. They actually translate one-to-one quite well.

> While even if the latter is not property, the former could be treated as intellectual property

"Intellectual property" is a catchall term that conflates three completely distinct concepts in law: copyright, patents, and trademarks.

Phone numbers are obviously not patentable; the entire idea is nonsensical. And phone numbers are explicitly not subject to copyright protection, and there's case law about this exact scenario. You can copyright a particular publication of phone numbers (such as a phone book), but not the number itself, and even if you could, that doesn't mean you're actually the owner of the number (the one who holds the copyright).

You could make the argument for trademark protection, and that's exactly what this case is about. Unfortunately, it's a bidirectional application of competing marks - the man who owns France.com was already being accused of infringing French trademark law in the first place by claiming France.com as a mark.

> Heck Googling just one, I found a Youtube documentary that chronicles the 40-year history of jingles associated with one of those numbers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDv8zqpl8mI


In germany there was 0190 76 76 76 - come play with me. (seven - sex, seven - sex, etc.)

What about the case where companies pay for vanity phone numbers that either match their business name, or approximate the business name: ex, 800 mattress or 800 eyeglasses?

since the 800 prefix has been exhausted, there is a pretty healthy secondary resale market in selling 800 numbers that have some recognizable combination of alphnumeric digits.

"as seen on TV" type ads selling kitchen gadgets and such will pay a fairly large amount of money for a "good" 800 DID.

Based on your other replies in this thread, you obviously know that there are more toll free NPAs than just “800”. As many of them have been around a long time, I would argue they are just as recognizable.

Yes, i'm well aware of that... I actually control the DIDs for some 800 numbers that are very valuable, we've been offered a great deal of money to transfer them. 800 remains the most valuable by far, particularly for direct sales to consumers in the US market, because it's existed for the longest amount of time. NPAs 888 and 877 are not nearly as valuable.

If you're setting up the inbound call center call routing for something like selling slapchops or asbestos-related personal injury lawyers (just as an example of television direct marketing), a vastly higher percentage of the age 55+ target market recognizes 800 immediately but is less certain about 888, 877 and others.

> a vastly higher percentage of the age 55+ target market recognizes 800 immediately but is less certain about 888, 877 and others.

That used to be the case, but not so much anymore. 888 and 877 have been used enough by major companies over the past twenty years that most consumers know they are TF. The companies who claim 800 is the only way to go and not 888/877/866 have a vested financial interest in convincing you of that.

(Note: 855/844/833 have much less awareness, so my omission of them above was intentional)

> I actually control the DIDs for some 800 numbers that are very valuable, we've been offered a great deal of money to transfer them. 800 remains the most valuable by far

Also, not disputing they are really valuable, I know that’s true from personal experience as well.

I’m more arguing that 800 numbers are valuable for a similar reason to diamonds being valuable. It’s not because diamonds are super rare or truly needed, it’s because the marketing has been so effective on them. The unbiased studies I’ve read show 888/877 are just as readily known and give a similar positive brand image as 800 numbers are. The industry doesn’t want to admit it though because they’ll lose out on the hype money.

I was about to ask why toll-free even matters, since cell phones make dialing "long distance" free. But I guess the 55+ target market is probably the least-saturated market when it comes to cell phones too, yeah?

Toll free matters in the way that having a .com matters. If you're advertising steakknives.biz at 616-555-1234, you have next to no credibility.

In this day and age, most folks have free long distance whether they have a cell phone or not. One misconception is that calling a 800 prefix is completely cost free, on a cellular phone, you still get charged for roaming / air time in most cases.

an 800 number is also partially about having a large corporate identity, for example if go to the website for $HUGE_AIRLINE and its main customer service/reservations phone number is 1-416-something-something vs 1-800-something-something, it looks less serious.

I used to work for MCI back in the day and our small business teams used that very tactic to sell TF numbers.

Is the government seizing those too?

The idea is if one, then the other. Kind of like when you spec out edge cases.

They could. Should they be able to?

Well, the Supreme Court just reinforced the difference between types of property, and upheld the idea that a government-granted artificial privilege doesn't have the same set of rights and due process attached to it that other types of property do.

Trademarks, being in the same boat, could in theory be revoked with less due process.

Intellectual property isn't quite property either. The Supreme Court recently rules against a patent troll claiming that an administrative revocation of a patent was a taking without due process precisely by this reasoning.[EDIT: as detailed at http://www.scotusblog.com/2018/04/opinion-analysis-justices-...]


> Two key points support the view that patents are matters of purely “public right.” The first is the notion, illustrated by quotations from earlier cases, that the patent is a “creature of statute law” that “take[s] from the public rights of immense value, and bestow[s] them upon the patentee.” The second is that the Constitution explicitly allocates to Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by granting patents; Congress’ decision to authorize the executive branch to grant patents is thus a constitutionally sanctioned delineation of “the executive power,” something which “need not be adjudicated in an Article III court.”

Public rights are not property.

So the domain owner should have registered a business called "France.com"

He did operate such a business. From the article: "For over 20 years, Frydman built up a business (also known as France.com) [...]."

I don't think we've routinely required ".com" to be part of the business branding of .com domain owners, but Ars Technica says he had that.

He did, but more importantly, the French government isn't a business either.

Nor is the French government a US citizen, permanent resident, or corporation.

Does this mean they can seize the word “France” in other languages well?

They definitly want to. France is a vulture when it comes to it's language.

As far as I understand, this is a US citizen, having registered their domain with a US business (web.com), and the government of France filed a lawsuit in a US court, and the decision was made based on US law. And apparently US law allows this for the French government, even if they're not a US citizen or corporation (I'm not sure how that works but if it wasn't specifically allowed by US law, it wouldn't have happened).

So France didn't "seize" anything.

You can argue the govt of France shouldn't have filed this suit, but based on what reasoning? It's not really their job to protect the interests of US citizens. I mean, that's how it is. It's not very nice. In reverse, the US only seems to care about US citizens as well. I agree it would be nice if governments cared more about the rights of their allies' citizens as well, such as not violating their privacy on a global scale and not hacking into the private home computers of allies' citizens.

Also I kind of feel the article confuses the matter a little by referring to the guy as a "French-born American" (which isn't at all relevant enough to the case to lead with in the first paragraph), and incorrectly stating he "has now sued his home country" when he has in fact sued his country of birth. His home country is the USA if he's an American. (unless I got the meaning of those terms wrong, in which case I stand by the fact that it's confusing to lead with :) )

edit I think I wanted to reply to the sibling post, sorry for even more confusion :)

The weird thing about this to me is that phone numbers always take you to the same phone, but domain names just involve me trusting some table I use to look things up.

The internet is deeply democratic, maybe anarchic -- whatever rules I want my machine to follow it follows. If people generally disagreed with this decision, a viral hosts file would roll it back.

(I don't think this so alarming a case that it will spawn a movement, but that response is available.)

.onion and namecoin and various others are a wholecloth attempt at this.

But it goes farther than hosts and alt roots. One of the unique properties of the internet is that if it gets overburdened with cruft people don't like, we can just build it from scratch on top of existing systems.

There are infinite namespaces. You could build a copy of the Internet that's the same but with no Facebook. You could build a copy of the internet where all domains are mapped right to left. You could build a copy of the internet that only hosts MUDs.

Adoption isn't guaranteed, or even likely, but maybe widespread adoption is part of the problem you're running from in the first place.

Here's to the dystopia of unregulatable and unusable internet fragmentation. Some pros, some cons.

> The weird thing about this to me is that phone numbers always take you to the same phone, but domain names just involve me trusting some table I use to look things up.

Not if I take my sim card and put it in another phone, or call my service provider to cancel my service and then they reuse the number for a new client.

Maybe I'm missing the point, but phone numbers, domain names, and ip addresses are all references that requiere looking up in some table (think routing tables for ip addresses and, I imagine, phone numbers).

To several commenters:

You're right, phone numbers aren't fixed. I went too far slipping that one in. My apologies.


I generally don't remap remote phone numbers on my own equipment at home. I'm sure I could run an Asterisk PBX, but that's at least one level of complication harder than using a hosts file. The phone system is designed for companies to talk to one another, the internet is basically designed to allow distributed authority and control.

Hackers have spent decades hacking into the telephone system to make it work more like the internet, before there was even an internet to resemble.

And the internet is agnostic, it will absolutely let you give up control to a remote authority over some aspects of its operation, like for DNS or certificates or DDoS mitigation, and sometimes that's a good trade. But it's never obligatory.

So the two converge and overlap, but I stand by my point that there's a fundamental difference stemming from original design and philosophy.

> The weird thing about this to me is that phone numbers always take you to the same phone

Actually no, the whole point of number portability in the north american numbering plan is that they don't, allowing the end-user of a phone number to move it from one service provider to another as they please.

For example from an MVNO riding on AT&T to T-Mobile, or from a Telus landline POTS number to a pure-voip SIP trunking/DID-termination provider.


this would be logically similar to transferring a domain from one registrar to another, while the ownership info remains the same. It's hard to make an exact analogy, but what carrier a number goes to in the number portability system is not extremely dissimilar from what authoritative nameservers are entered for the ns1/ns2/ns3 for a typical .com domain.

Phone numbers take you to the same phone until...

  - that person gets a new phone
  - a hacker politely calls customer support and asks to have a new phone activated on that number
  - the area code is split and someone else ends up getting the number
The phone system has a lookup table too.

In Australia, your phone has zero to do with your number; the SIM card is what “holds” it (not really. And that’s an oversimplification but oh well). And there are no area codes for mobiles.

And in Australia, for some reason you still get people who change their number when they buy a new phone, so...

You forgot a few..

One important one is “customer ports the number to a different carrier”.

I think that a renaming is something that will happen. The current DNS mutual hallucination has an insane network effect, but I think something else (fuck knows what, could be a toy, could be a tool, could be a protocol), with it's own naming convention will eventually become wildly popular and then make DNS obsolete.

errrr, some phone numbers can take you to call centers and you can end up talking to random different people every time

Phone numbers take you to an IMEI, which is looked up in some table.

no, phone numbers "take you" to index lookup in the SS7 system, which might direct a call to a DID hosted by a voip operator, a DID connected to an ESS5 switch serving POTS/analog dialtone customers, a DID connected to a fractional DS3 and somebody's legacy PBX, or to a mobile phone network and an IMEI.

by no means does a phone number mean that it must always go to a mobile phone network.

The courts, in the USA, have found that domain names are not property, instead they are like telephone numbers

The implications of the current legal position you describe are troubling.

These virtual identifiers, whether it's a phone number or an email address or a domain name or a Twitter handle, are now the dominant way we contact someone. Physical addresses that are inherently tied to their current occupant (and the well-established pain that comes with updating everyone if you move home or office) are becoming secondary.

More than that, these IDs are becoming trusted ways to reach a specific person. Many organisations, including the likes of banks and governments, now rely on some form of two-factor authentication using phones for access to important facilities. Many organisations will grant you the keys to (your part of) their kingdom as long as you can respond to an email to the address they hold for you. Many businesses reach their customers through services at their domain, and that domain may enjoy special privileges that a customer has permitted such as being whitelisted for sending important emails or just simple things like being bookmarked in the customer's browser or turning off an ad-blocker to support a site.

The law seems to be outpaced significantly by the technology and society's use of it here. If we aren't going to enjoy real property rights in terms of these essential identities that are managed or hosted by third party services, stories like the one we're talking about here today may be the tip of the iceberg.

"These virtual identifiers, whether it's a phone number or an email address or a domain name or a Twitter handle, are now the dominant way we contact someone."

That's a good argument for changing the law.

However, this is wrong:

"More than that, these IDs are becoming trusted ways to reach a specific person."

That is something that I would like to see, but that is definitely not the way things work now. If I fail to pay to renew a domain name, I lose it, just like if I fail to pay my phone bill, I lose it. I would like to see ids that belong to each person for life and which can not be sold or transferred. I'd especially like the postal service to offer me that option, so I would no longer need to give my physical address to strangers, but instead could simply give them my postal alias. But no such thing exists right now.

I agree that your suggestion of some sort of official, permanent point of contact would be better. However, even with the proviso that you have to keep paying for a service to retain it, it seems to me that some sort of regulation giving the current user of a particular ID first refusal over renewing it and a clear warning before they lose access to it would be beneficial. Possibly some restriction on reusing the same ID for anyone else within a reasonable period, say a few years, would also be a good idea. The fact is that these IDs are being used for sensitive, important, often government-sanctioned purposes already, and protecting them as such is surely an improvement on the status quo.

> The implications of the current legal position you describe are troubling.

No more so than actual real estate being seized by governments under Eminent Domain laws.

That's a dangerous precedent.

If nobody has the right to a phone number, and governments can assign any telephone number to themselves that they wish, that the Russian government can take over the phone number to the Whitehouse Switchboard? Then the Whitehouse would have to take it back and it would be the start of a perpetual tug-of-war?

I assume your response would be that "no, the US has already reserved that number". But isn't that what happened with France.com? It was already reserved.

Telephone numbers are well delineated between counties with “country codes”. I don’t think anybody is confused about which country owns what number.

But so are domains, just with a suffix instead of a prefix.

You oughta think a .com domain is more suitable for a commercial entity then for a government/state department.

.com has become the de-facto default TLD for the net for better or worse.

Maybe the default for businesses, but not countries. Canada.com -> Not government owned USA.com -> not government owned Germany.com -> not government owned

Just some quick ones I checked, but you get the gist.

As a Sweden .se is the de-facto domain for everything specific to Sweden.

I.e. see http://sweden.com/ vs http://sweden.se/

Or http://www.skatteverket.se/ vs http://www.skatteverket.com/ for that matter.

From my experience .com is the de-facto domain for international commercial entities. For my personal domain I use hultner.se

somewhat disagree, hipster companies use .io for example

doing as hipsters do, specifically avoiding the norm/default.

a perfect example of the exception proving the rule, i think

This is the interesting thing. If it had been france.us - would the policy be different? .com is a special case, as if a number existed outside of an allocated country code.

> Governments have the right to assign to themselves any telephone number they wish, and reserve ranges of phone numbers for themselves,

They don't do that after the fact.

And they don't assign themselves numbers outside their country.

> They don't do that after the fact.

They have and do. https://voiceofpeopletoday.com/kim-jong-un-orders-change-num...

It's unusual for the French government, who has some of the strongest consumer protections on the planet.

Wait, your argument is that Kim Jong Un seized telephone numbers, so of course France can seize a domain name from an American citizen 24 years after the fact?

> Wait, your argument is that Kim Jong Un

I'm not making an argument. I'm stating a fact, because the gp stated an incorrect fact (a generalization about governments). You can take a look at a number of other world countries that have changed phone numbers for various reasons, amounting the to same thing. A trivial refutation of

> They don't do that* after the fact.

* = change the ownership of phone numbers/domains

Things happen slowly in the EU. That's not a surprise to those who live in it.

Wait, Voice of People Today is registered in Tirana, Albania to a @gmail address? Seems fishy.

I feel like 1-800-Flowers Inc. and probably any company that employed a phoneword to achieve prominence could probably argue otherwise.[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoneword

Seems like the right idea for IP addresses, but not domain names. I don’t know why they can say all three belong to the same jurisdiction. I hope there’s an appeal.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say an IP addresses is like a phone number?

The DNS phonebook analogy would mean France.com is the name and the IP is the phone number.

What was done would be equivalent to taking a man's name from him leaving him with only his phone number.

I'd say the domain is the phone number (the visible identifier used to contact him) and IP address is whatever internal IDs the operators use to route calls to whatever cellphone he happens to be using.

Can the US seize google.com at any moment?

The new law that got signed into law a few weeks ago, FOSTA/SESTA, web sites that allow users to post public messages can be likely taken away. It's a pretty bad time to be a web site owner.

>Governments have the right to assign to themselves any telephone number they wish, and reserve ranges of phone numbers for themselves, therefore it makes sense that they can do the same to domain names.

What if America assigns themselves a.com and Australia also assigns themselves a.com ? Only one can prevail. There needs to be some higher power to determine whose demand wins.

> What if America assigns themselves a.com and Australia also assigns themselves a.com ? Only one can prevail.

This one's easy; the US owns .com and Australia doesn't, so obviously the US will win.

This makes it pretty mysterious why France would have a claim on a .com domain, though. They own .fr, not .com.

Maybe ICANN would involve themselves at some point? https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/help/dndr/udrp-en

Using the law to define theft is not a great idea.

Governments can and do steal. For instance multiple nations have now passed laws forcibly seizing land from individuals, without compensation, exclusively because of their race. That's still theft. More accurate would be to state that "this does not appear to be unlawful."

And domains are not like phone numbers, they're like entries in a phone book. This would be more analogous to a famous "Joe Blow" getting the phone book to remove every other "Joe Blow" from the phone book since he feels (and is probably correct) that if somebody's looking up "Joe Blow", they're probably looking for him. And that is not an action I think is reasonable.

Did France use bankruptcy laws to get the courts to order that the domain name be transferred? Was France a creditor? Was Frydman a debtor?

Did France use trademark law to pressure the registrar to transfer the domain name registration?

What if Frydman was not using the domain name to provide information about anything covered by the classes under which France registered its trademark(s)?

What about if, e.g., France had registered in some class covering tourism and Frydman was providing information about French tourism.

Does it matter? Why or why not?

Using the law to define theft is not a great idea.

Governments can and do steal. For instance multiple nations have now passed laws forcibly seizing land from individuals, without compensation, exclusively because of their race. That's still theft. More accurate would be to state that "this does not appear to be unlawful."

Your point seems odd in lumping governments together - they can within their own territories act as you suggest but not extraterritorially. It would seem stange to me if France could forcibly assign a number to itself if that number was a US number (eg with a 212 area code).

Not all courts, IIRC. The Virginia case was based on VA state law. The 9th and 2nd rules that phone numbers are not assets...so maybe domains are like phone numbers?

That is exactly what I said. Did you read what I wrote? Phone numbers are not assets...so maybe domains are like phone numbers?

I think OP was saying that you were taking a ruling from the 4th and 9th circuits and expanding it's domain as if it were nationally the case in the US.

No, you said that "courts," as if the Supreme Court had ruled. We have federal laws, state laws and federal judges making decisions based on state laws. Also even if a Federal Appeals court in a circuit rules one way is not binding on all.

Wow that's crazy... you buy something yet but you don't own it. It's a bit like cellphones, I guess.

What you buy is a temporary licence to use a domain, the fact that you need to renew it every year or so is a good sign that nobody "owns" a domain name (and that it was designed this way, with a limit on the number of years you can buy)

... I own my cellphone. What are you referring to?

locked bootloaders/etc... They claim it's for security but they don't give you a choice.

That has zero to do with ownership - unless you think the code on every embedded chip should be 100% open and accessible in user-space.

Which would be a security nightmare.

Why is this being downvoted? I'm citing the relevant court case.

Probably because you’re presenting a state level case as if it’s precedent for the US as a whole.

Maybe I'm weird but I think France.com belonging to France is the just thing. The last thing we need is giving more rights to squatters.

Taking it from the guy who's spent 20 years building a business on it, with no compensation, is the just thing?

It belongs to a person born there, who registered it and is using it. How is he in any way a squatter?!

Registered and used it with, apparently, the blessing of the French government for a couple of decades - they were aware of its existence, and worked with him in providing some content, as I understood the article.

It's ... nothing at all like cybersquatting. At all.

He had the blessing until he went for the trademark in Europe. In 2015 France.com didn't exist as trademark, then was registered by France.com Inc and at that point France declared prior use on the word France and related trademarks.

They let him use it until he tried to claim it for himself.

I'm not saying this is a squatter.

So if I have a US telephone number that spells out FRANCE, it's OK for France to seize it? 1-800-FRA-NCE1 ?

no no, the country should be represented by some American.

IMHO the only offensive part is how they took so much time to do it. That part is very nasty.

Web.com transfers the france.com they registered for their customer (since 1994) to the government of France without explanation or warning.

"on March 12, 2018, Web.com abruptly transferred ownership of the domain to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The company did so without any formal notification to Frydman and no compensation."

It is actually just another example proving the warning we have all known/given for years about SaaS / cloud providers owning your digital properties.

Yeah, I think as soon as he heard any sort of rumblings from those French entities, he would have been smart to transfer away from web.com to a real/first-party registrar. Potentially they would have been less likely to just hand over the domain.

I'm wondering if anything legally prevents Verisign or a registrar from saying "screw it, we're selling every domain name under our control and then shutting down our business." The total assets of Verisign and all of the .com registrars are surely far less than the value of all of the .com domains. Heck, the value of the FANG domains alone is probably worth more than all registrars combined. If Verisign transferred technical control of all .com domains to another party, I guess that would effectively result in a fork of the entire DNS system, assuming the rest of the root name server operators didn't go along with it. But could Verisign legally get away with it?

In the france.com case, presumably the owner of the domain was paying Web.com for the domain, and they allegedly received no compensation from Web.com when it was transferred. Seems like a pretty blatant breach of contract to me. Why isn't Web.com being sued? Suing them indirectly via Verisign doesn't make sense.

Can you please clarify what FANG domain means? A quick google search does not give much help (and actually leads back to this comment).

Can you recommend such a registrar? I also had bad experience with Network Solutions / web.com. They seem to blur the distinction between being a hosting company and a domain registrar.

easyDNS (easydns.com), based in Canada, has a reputation for not just rolling over.

Their UI though is a bit crappy compared to other places though (like hover). Hover though I suspect wouldn't put up any kind of resistance.

I don't think namesilo would do this, they're highly respected, 8.50 .com's, and free domain privacy.

The irony that it was generically named web.com who did this. Why should they keep their name, they don't own the web?

He should team of with Tim Berners Lee, and get the creator of the internet to claim he owns the rights to Web.com ...

So it should really be web.co.uk, or web.ac.uk, or web.gb, or web.ch or web.ac.ch or something 8) Sir Tim is a Brit and we have two TLDs uk and gb and of course Sir Tim was working at CERN in Switzerland (.ch) when he started the www thing.

Sir T only invented the www. The internet as such was invented by an American agency - ARPA/DARPA.

In the mean time, cern even got it's own top level domain, because of its international nature.

CERNs homepage is https://home.cern

And it should be france.fr not france.com

It's even worse. france.com forwards to france.fr at the moment..

“...cloud providers owning your digital properties.”

Not entirely the case. If your domain name represents a registered trademark, I think you’ll find the courts on your side should someone attempt to commandere your domain name.

I think we'll see if that's the case after this court case is closed.

I don't see anyone claiming that the plaintiff has a registered trademark. He does, however, mention that the defendant specifically disavowed ownership on a trademark of the word "France."

In other words, this case does not hinge on trademark. My point is that cases that do hinge on trademark tend to work out in favor of the trademark owner.

This case feels like a kind of imminent domain.

So the case came down to violating French trademark law. That's because country names cannot be trademarked internationally ( and why tourist agencies register names like Visit<country> )

So it's not clear why Web.com even responded to the complaint unless they have a presence in France. Or was the risk that it could have been escalated to a European level of penalty?

That part of the story seems severely underexplained to me. Web.com doesn't seem to have any marketing content not in English, so their EU business is probably small compared to this reputational hit. Concern that France would eventually get to them through their payment processors and banks, if the EU takes its cue from the USA in applying extraterritorial law? (Link to GDPR enforcement debate here...)

I guess this means we should all ask our registrars what countries' court orders they'll abide by? What happens if Maduro has a Venezuelan court order seizing DolarToday.com?

It's because someone screwed up big time and when journalists started calling their lawyers told them to shut up.

If country names cannot be trademarked, that makes the french government's case even weaker, according to WIPO rules - the international body tasked with untangling domain name disputes that fall outside national jurisdiction, like the .com hierarchy.

Using a domain name in bad faith against an established trademark are both necessary conditions to seize a domain name. If the term is generic, it cannot be trademarked. There is also beyond dispute that it was used in good faith.

I haven't seen this mentioned yet in the thread but France.fr is a relatively new website for the promotion of tourism in France. Big part of their prospects is worlwide.

So if France Gall[0] created the website she would have been stripped too? France is a relatively common name[1] in France.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France_Gall

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France_(name)

There is a famous precedent with milka.fr https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milka_contre_Kraft_Foods

tldr : a woman named Milka bought the domain for her own business and used it for a while before Kraft foods noticed it. Lawsuit followed, big business won.

And nissan.com

In this case, big business hasn't won yet: http://www.digest.com/Big_Story.php

Somehow, despite domains having sufficient differentiation, it has evolved to the point where the first part seems to be all that matters.

In this case, "something.fr" should be sufficient in France and yet the reality is that if you don’t also control "something.<foo>" for all possible values of "<foo>", you might encounter a problem later.

Even worse, it has evolved that we now have to care about certain patterns on certain sites. What if you don’t control "something.facebook.com", or "reddit.com/r/something" for instance?

It’s crazy. We need to be deploying security technologies further so that names alone can stop mattering so damned much. All we seem to have in wide use are certificates, which are still not required and essentially not understood by users (if they don’t get an entity name and padlock, they’d probably load the site anyway).

or they could have used .info, as country names are reserved .info names. »ICANN and Afilias have also sealed an agreement for country names to be reserved by ICANN under resolution 01.92.« - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.info

.com is a good compromise. i believe the average user assumes the .com domain to be the most legitimate / canonical.

I think it's the exact opposite. .com websites are very rarely legitimate, canonical whereas .org, .edu, .gov etc... are more legitimate and trustworthy

All of those are US only, making .com the next best thing in this case I guess?

All countries have their respective .edu, .gov, .org etc and if you consider them I think my point still stands.

What do you mean? .edu and .gov are US-only.

E.g. France has .gouv.fr which is equivalent of .gov. All countries have their respective replacements, if needed.

Maybe it’s time to not make them us only. France.gov would make way more sense.

FYI most of (all?) of government related websites are under *.gouv.fr in France.

Having an alias under the .gov TLD for people used to this TLD would make sense, like eg tourism.france.gov => tourisme.gouv.fr

I'm surprised the article didn't mention the value of the domain.

I used to work for a domain name marketplace where we sold kittens.com for $6 million dollars. France.com has to be worth a few million.


I can't detect if you're joking but that seems pretty messed up. I guess from the looks of it today, kittens.com didn't turn a profit?

Not joking. Single word domains under the .com tld are worth a lot, especially very common words.

I don't know that kittens.com was ever turned into anything, they may have just bought it betting on it being worth even more in the future.

That's impressive. I need to re-calibrate my assumptions about this. Thanks!

This seems somewhat familiar to me... https://domainnamewire.com/2009/11/30/paris-wins-parvi-org-i...

Hopefully it turns out well for Mr. Frydman as it did for me (even though Paris still hasn't paid up): https://domainnamewire.com/2012/09/17/city-of-paris-ordered-...

Why would the Paris Court of Appeals have any jurisdiction in this case? I'm surprised web.com didn't have their lawyers review the request and then throw it in the trash.

If web.com wants to do any business in France, or possibly if its executives ever want to travel there, then the French government has leverage over them.


I have read the entire judgement and beside the fact you can not register the name of a country, he had not also the right to register a trademark from the beginning.

The page you link talks about agreements for the New gTLDs, and as far as I know the contract for .com has not been amended to match this, so it does not apply to France.com. The trademark angle of course isn't changed by that.

Wait a sec, “France” is a trademark?

It certainly could be a trademark, just not an exclusive one like Coca-Cola. If you wanted to market a "France" brand of chairs in the US, that'd be allowed most likely, but wouldn't prevent a "France" brand of dish towels from being registered by someone else.

You'd still need to avoid a false impression of origin for your chairs, but it could work if they're actually from France, you provide an alternate association for the word France in your context ("From Mr. France himself, your Kentucky neighbor since 1993!"), or just include in your branding/advertising enough clarity on where the chairs are from.


> Defendants knew that they did not, and do not, have a right to the word "France," as evidenced by Defendant Atout France's US Trademark Registration No. 4027580, filed in 2009, in which Defendant expressly disclaimed the exclusive right to the word "France."

Yup, agreed. Exclusive being the key word there. They were using the word France as a reference to the country, and couldn't prevent others from doing so. That's different from using the word to reference something else like chairs.

That text only refers to an exclusive right

Coca Cola probably doesn't have a trademark for chairs, so this is a bit of an odd example. If you tried to trademark Coca Cola chairs, Coca Cola would sue you based on confusion, not because they already have a trademark in the category of household furniture.

Right - their trademark effectively means "from The Coca-Cola Company" as it's intrinsic meaning. As you say, anything called Coca-Cola would create confusion if not actually from them, since people would assume it was theirs. So they effectively have exclusive rights to such trademarks.

Whereas for a country name like France, people assume much less about the purveyor of a good simply based on that kind of a reference in its name.

It's obviously not a trademark since the name is older than trademarks themselves.

ICANN was formed in 98. He bought the site in 94.

The first thought which came to my mind was "Thanks god I don't have anything registered with Web.com". In case anyone does, right now might be a great moment to consider migration.

Germany doesn't seem to care much about http://germany.com :)

Or UnitedStates.com - a spam site

Or America.com (a godaddy page).

Could this guy sue Web.com?

Maybe he can win the fight to Web.com on behalf of the WWW.

Back in the early 2000's whitehouse.com used to be a patriotic-themed adult site. So I'm told...

You are correct. Accidentally went there once when I was supposed to go to whitehouse.gov. Needless to say, there were images of many interns...

I checked out whitehouse.gov recently and they now feature a guy who previously co-starred with Stormy Daniels.

I guess most <country_name>.com domains are not owned by the governments, as .com is quite old, and geeks would have got them long before govts thought of having a website.

To add to the list, brazil.com(website inaccessible), russia.com, india.com(news website), china.com, southafrica.com

Maybe they would care if it were deutchland.de.

They probably are now.

A stroll through archive.org shows there was a small business sending people to and blogging about France: http://web.archive.org/web/20160805122924/http://www.france.... as .com is short for commercial it appears the owner was using the domain correctly before transfer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.com

Does anyone remember http://www.nissan.com and its long, drawn out legal battle?

My memory is hazy now but I recall in the mid-90s Gap (the clothing company) suing Genesis Access Point (an ISP) over gap.com and winning. First come first served is the only fair way to run domain names.

That relied on USA trademark law. Applied to the case mentioned in the above article, the government of France can seize France.com. The principle behind trademark disputes is, would a similar name cause confusion in the market place? The French government can make the case that it would be confusing if a private citizen was allowed to possess France.com. As a principle, "First come first served" has never won a case against trademark law. Or rather, the "first come first served" applies to whoever filed for the trademark, not the domain name. Put another way, trademark beats domain name.

Also known as "enabling domain name squatters".

Perhaps so. But how would you have the issue resolved? Should the domain go to the most well known party? The product a reasonable person expects to find when they type in the address?

What happens if I register icar.com for product that syncs your car to the cloud. Then Apple decides they want to compete with Elon Musk, with their new Icar. Who will get the domain?

What happens when a large company decides to rebrand it's self and wants the domain?

What happens to Nissan? http://www.nissan.com

Going by iPad.com as an example, you'd play a game of chicken with Apple, because the moment you try to monetize that site in almost any way, they'll sue you for trademark infringement. You'll hope they offer you a ton of money for it, but Apple's brand is strong enough that they don't need it.

Mr. Nissan is lucky that he had an existing business that wasn't car related and he only registered his name...

Mr. Nissan is lucky indeed.

One of the reasons I used Apple is because it is easy to point to some examples of them acting in bad faith. Iphone and the music side both had legal niceties surrounding them, from all the parties involved.

If if was a small company or a single person in either of these cases, it would generally be a steam roll. Perhaps ipad.com is a squatter but I would want to make very sure before I give the rights to Apple.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linksys_iPhone https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Corps_v_Apple_Computer

Very dumb of Apple IMO. Just pay the guy. So what that he wants $x million?

Then they would also have to pay millions for applewatch.com macbook.com ipadpro.com macpro.com iphone7.com iphone8.com iphonex.com ...

>> applewatch.com, ipadpro.com macpro.com...iphone7.com iphone8.com iphonex.com

UDRP cost a few thousand dollars. iPad.com, IIRC, was registered before Apple came up with iPad. Plus, iPad is an entire product line.

If $x is more than $y they lose not owning the domain, it makes no business sense.

Wow. Nissan.com has a dropdown labled "people's opinions" with 505 pages. Thats.. one way to build a navigation.

the most charitable explanation might be that they can't afford good web design because all their money is funding their legal defense.

Ermm how exactly was an Internet company named Genesis Access Point domain-squatting a clothing company that didn’t even know what the internet was at the time they bought it? Did you think this one through?

In this particular instance, clearly not. However, a rule of "first come first served" does not do anything but validate domain name squatting as a business model. It's like patents, you may have a patent linked to a legitimate business, or you may be in the extortion business. Let's not enable extortionists.

Perhaps first practicing entity come, first served then? First with a legitimate interest in the name?

I'll grant that domain squatting is bad and not something we should want to enable, but it's also bad to automatically let the most powerful company win. If your name is Nissan and you own a computer store, you shouldn't have nissan.com taken from you because the car company is bigger. If your name is Mike Rowe and you thought to register mikerowesoft.com for your software projects, you're clever, and should get to keep your domain.

I think he will win according to US law. At least there's no bad faith, simply a site about "France"

I doubt he’ll get anywhere by suing the French government. They’ll either just ignore him, or assert sovereign immunity.

He’d probably have better luck suing web.com or the new registrar in a US court and forcing them to hand it back.

I think a Fed judge can order--US based--Verisign to transfer the name back. At least they were able to...

I'm pretty disappointed by all the armchair lawyering in this thread that isn't defending the individual/citizen in this case.

.gov, .fr, etc were created for a reason. Trademark law is intended to protect people from intentionally misleading branding.

These two items taken together should make it obvious that France.gov is the only name the government of France 'should' be entitled to. If you are willing to say that France.com should be available to the French government... then it's a slippery slope. Are you going to give them to right to take down critical websites with titles like Francesucks.com or Francegenocide.com.

These lawsuits have played out before between private individuals like Madonna et al.


Why should a government be privileged to seize any .com that they deem to be in their interest? There is no evidence that France.com was not being used in a nefarious or misleading way.... in fact it sounds like the government had at least unofficially endorsed the site's usage and contributed. It was being used for a bonafide business.

I really think anyone defending a government's 'right' to seize this domain name is forgetting the underlying liberal democratic principles of the internet. Rights are for people, not governments. I don't see how France acting in this way serves its people constructively.

EDIT: It seems like all people care to comment on is the fact that they (and I) already know that .gov is for the US government, while other countries have their own TLDs.

Let me play Devil's Advocate for a moment to hopefully make you think more critically about this decision.

What if you owned a famous China (dishware, cups, etc) company and registered China.com back in 1994. Do you think China should be allowed to take that domain?

Or another, what if a new country were formed that were suddenly the same name as a pre-existing multinational corporation.... Government wins? Always?

Isn't this now (yet another) misuse of .com? That TLD is for COMmerce. And it appears they're ruining some guy's life just to redirect to france.fr - i.e. it's only there to catch when someone mistakenly types france.com. Someone who types france.com deserves to be taken to some kind of commercial entity. Such as france.com!

.gov is only available to the United States government. There's no way for France to get france.gov.

I edited my post. I meant to say that governments have assigned/protected names like .fr, .de, etc.

No, they have not. Each country can manage country-code top level donains, but that's just it: a specific top-level domain they are free to use. That doesn't negate them the right of using other domains, just like if you buy a domain name you don't lose the right of using a second or a third one.

It boggles the mind how anyone in their right mind can believe that a cyber-squatter shoud somehow have the right to hold the domain name of a sovereign nation for ransom.

Except he wasn’t a cyber squatter — he built a business around it.

It’s seems uncommon for countries to actually own COUNTRY.com - UnitedStates.com, America.com, Germany.com and many more are privately held.

germany.com isn't in the same class as the other examples; France's claim on france.com is arguably more similar to Germany's hypothetical claim on deutschland.com . Why assume that what governments really care about is the English name for their country?

Germany doesn’t care about deutschland.com either.

So, unclear what your point is.

Mine, is that countries generally don’t seem to care about the .com (of any variation) of the country name.

"It boggles the mind how anyone in their right mind can believe that a cyber-squatter shoud somehow have the right to hold the domain name of a sovereign nation for ransom."

I... just don't know how to respond to this. Do you have any proof that it was 'being held for ransom'? It sounds like it wasn't for sale at any price... it was hosting the man's business.

And I definitely don't agree with cyber-squatting... in fact I personally think that 'parked' domains should be returned to the public domain after some X years. I hate that there are people holding vast numbers of potentially useful domain names and not using them for anything.

I just don't understand how you drew that conclusion in this particular case... it sounds like the opposite actually.

The guy who owned the domain wasn’t “cyber squatting”. If he was, there is a process for that.. which wasn’t followed here.

Individuals should have more rights and more freedoms than nations.

The UN having any such powers is a long way off, for now you get your rights ensured by your country.

In 47 countries, people can appeal to the ECHR: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Court_of_Human_Rights

Though I don't think they deal with domain names.

Indeed. It uses .gouv.fr subdomains.

We should give this guy FRANCE.gov

> .gov was created for a reason.

Apparently, the .gov tld was created to be uses exclusively by government entities in the United States.

France is not a government entity of the USA.

I edited my post. I meant to say that governments have assigned/protected names like .fr, .de, etc.

.gov is purely American, the French equivalent is .gouv.fr

francesucks.com cannot be mistaken as an official France site. Americans looking for travel information won't know to type france.gov.fr

Americans looking for travel information don't type any domain name at all.

They type "france travel information" into Google.

This sounds like a case maybe EFF would be interested in backing.

He should consult the guy that owns nissan.com.

why? nissan.com is owned by Mr. Uzi Nissan so there is a reasonable defense that he has a justifiable claim to the domain. seems a lot more clear cut than this.

So you're saying that if the owner of france.com was a Mr. James France, the French government wouldn't have done the same thing?

The website claims that Nissan (the guy)'s business existed before Datsun became Nissan. I think there ought to be some kind of prior art for trademarks as well. It is not fair that a business suddenly not be allowed to use their trademark (even if they fail to register it) just because someone else registers it.

They might have. No definitive answer to that alternate timeline.

If his name was France, his use of the domain would have been more defensible(depending on what he was doing with the domain).

Some of us remember the issues with mtv.com (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTV#Internet).

Is France a company? Wouldn't they want france.gov?

As an owner of worcester.com, this is the argument we had with the city of Worcester, MA in the 90s. They did in fact want worcester.gov.

No, they would not want france.gov, since they are not a government entity of the United States.

Ah, I did not realize how much of a mess this had become.

How can one sue the French government in a Virgina court.

Should the French government waste tax money in hiring American attorneys and representing itself? I would say no.

Since the French government has assets in the United States, yes it very much should.

Why is web.com not party to the lawsuit?

canada.com is not owned by the government, its owned by postmedia the parent of rogers

between this and the various DNS hacks, maybe we should consider a trustless solution.

whats messed up is that they now have the website redirected towards france.fr

Domains on the blockchain?

I was about to get some namecoins and register my .bit domain name but I decided to dig a bit more before going all in.

Correct me if I'm wrong (seriously, please do) but it seems to me that namecoin being (technically) a fork of bitcoin, shares most of bitcoin's problems, in particular regarding mining and exchange.

Here was my doubt: suppose that I get namecoins and obtain .bit domain name, how do i keep it registered? Do i have to mine? Do i have to renew by "spending" namecoins? Can i get namecoins on exchanges? (spoiler to last question: yes).

Here is how it might just fail: given that namecoins has mostly the same cryptographic properties of bitcoin, if namecoin was to become widely adopted then everybody would start mining and selling namecoins, making namecoin price skyrocket at the point where 1) mining namecoins to keep your domains would become super expensive 2) people would burn "real" money on gpu mining and asic miners, accumulating large amounts of coins and keeping them hostage (that is, hoping to sell them for a lot of "real" money).

You'd still have to agree on what rules to base your blockchain on. This is a political issue, not a technological one.

I transferred my domains off web.com after continually being forced to call to get anything done. They started sending me spam trying to trick me to switching back. Terrible company. They are register.com FYI.

I know we are talking about this in the digital realm, but this also exists in the property realm too. Imminent Domain is used be governments to acquire land, generally below its actual valution, for building of infrastructure.

I wonder if this concept will ever make it to the digital world.

I am against emi ent domain but at least it is justified by the fact that there are no alternatives. A road between two points must pass through some land, but if a domain name for your website isn't available don't be a bully and buy another one. Also you have to compensate with eminent domain, you can't just take. Not in decent societies anyway. What we have here is maximum statism. A bunch of french bureaucrats had some stupid idea on how to spend stolen taxpayers money to "improve" society, and they used their position to steal a domain name from a guy who was minding his own business. In this case bureaucrats should be condemned as if they were thief.

> In this case bureaucrats should be condemned as if they were thief.

I don't think the public gets to go scott free in this. France is a democracy. If the French government does something, all French people are responsible for it. That's what the world says about us, why not France?

Minor nit I believe you mean Eminent Domain. Imminent Domain somehow sounds even scarier (and would be a great band name).

Pretty sure France can't "imminent domain" property located in foreign lands -- like, for instance, they wanted 1600 Pennsylvania Ave as their new US tourism office.

Tangential to the core issue, but seems kinda weird to me that he claims he bought it from web.com in 1994 and he’s had the domain for 24 years when web.com has only existed for 19. A quick Wikipedia search would’ve clearly shown this. Further, in 1994, there’s only one place he could’ve registered this domain as it wasn’t decentralized until the late 90s.

I guess Ars was sleeping at the wheel when posting this.

Network Solutions was started in 1994, and was later bought by Web.com. It is correct to say that he got a domain name from a registrar which is now the property of Web.com.

Yes, but he wasn’t a Web.com customer for 24 years. Web.com didn’t exist until 1999 and further didn’t buy Network Solutions until 2011. It’s fine for a consumer to not remember, but Ars should do better in their reporting!

You can see some historical domain data using SecurityTrails:


Showing Network Solutions for a long time then switched to OVH in March.

Correct, I saw that. Network Solutions wasn’t bought by Web.com until 2011, and had Ars fact checked via a quick Wikipedia search they’d know this too. I don’t fault the owner (former I guess) of France.com, I fault Ars for not doing basic fact checking.

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