Domain blocking decision upheld

France

The Versailles Court of First Instance has upheld a decision by the Association Française pour le Nommage Internet en Coopération (AFNIC), the French domain name registry that runs the '.fr' country-code top-level domain (ccTLD), to block a large number of potentially infringing '.fr' domain names.

AFNIC had blocked 4,465 '.fr' domain names for three months on the basis that the behaviour of the registrant ran contrary to the spirit of the AFNIC registration rules. Certain of the names registered were potential infringements of third-party IP rights and so, having received several complaints from trademark owners, AFNIC decided to block them in order to allow third parties to enforce their rights, either by litigation or by dispute resolution proceedings.

The employer of the registrant, a domain name registrar based in Luxembourg called EuroDNS, contested the blocking at a preliminary hearing at the Versailles Court of First Instance. The court dismissed EuroDNS's claim and ruled in favour of AFNIC. It found that the registrations infringed AFNIC's registration rules (i) concerning the infringement of third-party rights, and (ii) prohibiting registration of domain names on behalf of registrants having no link with France.

This case is just one of the factors that has led to AFNIC's decision to delay allowing unidentified individuals to register names under the '.fr' ccTLD. This change, which was supposed to take place at the beginning of 2005, is the second part of a relaxation of the rules governing registration in the '.fr' ccTLD.

Before May 11 2004, registrants had to comply with stringent rules requiring proof of a "right in the name" and produce either a French company registration certificate bearing the requested denomination or a trademark covering France matching the denomination. However, registrants now only have to supply proof of a link with France by way of their appearance on certain French databases. Registration by those not identifiable on the relevant databases (that is, mainly individuals) was planned for early 2005. However, this will now be delayed due to AFNIC's continuing concern about the infringement of third-party rights, the likelihood of which is clearly increased should the registrant not be identifiable.

Asking individuals to supply proof of identity, such as a passport, raises further issues about the protection of privacy that will not be easily resolved.

EuroDNS has instituted legal proceedings on the merits (ie, it has requested a full hearing), in the meantime the domain names remain blocked.

For a background discussion of this case, see Ruling expected on legitimacy of domain blocking decision.

David Taylor, Lovells, Paris

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