A US court reopens the question on the legal nature of domain names

business-dreyfus-81-150x150Following the sex.com case, the Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit considered that the domain name was subject to property rights – the debate on the legal nature of the domain name appeared closed. Still, the Federal Court in Virginia brought its contribution.


It concerns a judicial winding-up proceedings. The Court held that the domain name is only a contractual right and as such, it does not have separate existence from the provider which renders the Internet address accessible. Consequently, according to the decision of the Federal Court of Virginia, a domain name cannot be sold by a liquidator to pay the debt of a company. The Court followed the decision rendered in various precedents. In the case of Network Solutions dated April 21, 2000, it had already been found that “a domain name is not a personal property”.


In France, the property right over a domain name in .com has been long established. A judgement of the Commercial Court of Marseille ruled that the registrant was “the proprietor of the domain names for having registered them prior to the creation of the company” from which it was claiming to cease the use of the names.


If the debate is intense in the United States, the issue seems already settled in France, which appears to be logical. Indeed, the domain name is an intangible asset in the commerce, which its holder has owned by registering it. Hence, nothing is against the application of Article 544 of the Civil Code to domain names.


Nonetheless, the status of the domain names is flickering because it is not textually defined. The judgement of the Federal Court of Virginia perfectly illustrates it. A clear definition of the nature of the domain name is necessary to bring security and stability to the registrants.


Dreyfus & associés can help you manage your domain names disputes.  Please feel free to contact us for any information.