France.com has been officially turned over to the French government, but a New York man who owned the domain for two decades is suing the country to get it back.
The website currently redirects viewers to the English version of France.fr website, also run by the Foreign Ministry. But, from 1994 until last month Jean-Noel Frydman ran the site as a sort of Francophile’s hub for those in the US. Now he wants to regain control after he claimed in his lawsuit that the government was well aware of the website and what he was doing.
Mr Frydman, a French-born New Yorker had first registered the domain name on 10 February 1994 and launched the “digital kiosk” about a year and a half later, CNBC reported. “Domain names are a first-come, first-served product, and that’s true across the globe,” Mr Frydman’s lawyer David Ludwig told The Verge news outlet, adding that France’s takeover of the site “turns that framework on its head”.
Mr Frydman built up the website for the next 20 years, often collaborating with the French tourism agency and the consulate in Los Angeles. The tourism bureau even awarded Mr Frydman’s site in 2009 with a “Best Website” award.
The legal battle began in 2015, however, when the French government filed legal paperwork in France which accused Mr Frydman of having created the website in “bad faith” and ran it without permission. They made no attempts to buy the site, according to Mr Frydman but argued that the domain was the rightful property of the government.
The case is currently being appealed in France’s highest court but in the meantime, he has filed a counter-suit in US federal court which accused the government of “cyber-squatting” and "reverse domain-name hijacking," or taking the domain name away from the original owner.
As The Verge news outlet reported the site had gone dark “overnight” after “it had been a tourist and travel booking site” for 24 years “and all associated email addresses were suddenly bouncing back. In a matter of minutes, a unique and lucrative asset had gone up in smoke”.
“It’s been incredibly challenging. I have no contingency for this,” Mr Frydman told The Verge. The expat had begun the website early in internet history when he was at a “crossroads” in his career because he saw the potential of it. Among travel bookings, there was travel advice and tips, French news updates through the Le Monde newspaper, and also offered paid subscription and package holiday deals.
The site at one point had up to 100,000 visitors a month and while Mr Frydman had other domain names, France.com eventually became his sole project.
The domain had been registered under Web.com but at some point before the March 2018 transfer it had been shifted over to French registrar OVH, which will likely not fall under US federal jurisdiction, unlike Web.com.
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