Korean court rejects French decision in domain name dispute

South Korea

A Korean court has issued an injunction preventing the transfer of domain names as ordered by a French court. The decision suggests that a court not located at the place of the registrant or the registrar does not have jurisdiction to order the transfer of a domain name in another jurisdiction.

The defendant in this case, Hangang Systems Inc, is the registrar for Korea's generic top-level domain names, and is approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The plaintiff, X, is a Korean resident who had registered the domain names 'france2.com' and 'france3.com' with the defendant in March of this year.

Two French broadcasting companies, La Sociét Nationale de Télévision France 2 and La Sociét Nationale de Télévision France 3, filed a complaint at the Nante District Court of France on April 23 seeking to have the domain names transferred to them. The companies claimed that X was exploiting the reputation of the companies and this was a violation of France's Intellectual Property Law.

Although X received the summons to appear in court, he chose not to. The district court therefore entered an order against X, prohibiting him from using the domain names and ordering him to transfer the names to the two companies. The French companies then sought to enforce the French court's order in Korea. They demanded that the Korean court make X, Hangang Systems and ICANN transfer the domain names in accordance with the order obtained in France.

Upon request from X, the Korean court issued a preliminary injunction preventing Hangang Systems from transferring the names without X's consent because, said the court, the registrar has a legal duty to maintain and manage the domain names registered by X.

According to Article 3 of ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), a domain name registration may be cancelled, transferred or changed by an order of a court in a competent jurisdiction. Therefore, the issue in this case was whether the Nante District Court had jurisdiction over the dispute.

The Korean court considered the country's new Conflict of Law Rules Act which came into force on July 1 and found that the courts in the place of the registrant's domicile and the courts in the place where the registrar is located have jurisdiction to order the transfer of domain names. This interpretation is compatible with Article 4 of the UDRP.

Thus, the Korean court ruled that the French court's order need not be enforced in Korea as the French court did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute regarding the domain names.

Kyung-Han Sohn, Aram International Law Offices, Seoul

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