On May 28, 2014, the Court of Appeal of Lyon found that the title “Val Thorens” is protected by copyright. Consequently, the registration and use of the domain names <val-thorens.net> and <val-thorens.org> amount to infringement.
M.V registered the domain names <val-thorens.net> and <val-thorens.org> in 1998 and 2000 respectively. He is a consultant in information technology, web hosting and the management of advertising spaces. Regarding the Tourism Board of Val Thorens, it registered the trademark “Val Thorens” in 2004.
The Court of Appeal firstly reiterated that “in the absence of any claims from the author(s), the use of a work by a legal person in its own name leads to the presumption, as far as third parties accused of infringement are concerned, that this person holds intangible property rights over the work, whether such work is collective or not.” As such, the Tourism Board has locus standi.
The term “Val Thorens” in this case relates to a title of works, brochures and websites, the originality of which is not at issue. According to the Court, the title is the result of a “creative process, bearing the mark of the author’s personality.” It is linked to toponyms, such as the valley of the Thorens stream, leading to the creation of a new term that refers to these works in a “specific, original and recognizable” way. Thus, the Court held that “Val Thorens” is protected by copyright.
While the Board adduces evidence that the website <val-thorens.com> has been used since April 1997, M.V does not provide any evidence showing that he registered or used the domain name <val-thorens.org> before 2000.
Finally, the Board uses the trademark Val Thorens for holiday accommodation services. According to the Court, M.V’s placing of real estate advertisements on the websites <val-thorens.org> and <val-thorens.net> constituted trademark infringement. Indeed, there is a risk of confusion in the mind of the consumer owing to the similarity of the services and products.
Reliance on the decision by the Court of Appeal of Lyon should be tempered. Indeed, case law on the protection of titles of works is strict and unpredictable. The courts carry out a strict assessment of a title’s originality (Court of Appeal of Paris, September 6, 2013, “Les amoureux de la Bastille”; CA Paris, group 5, chamber 2, June 19, 2009, “L’empreinte de l’ange”). This is why it is difficult to consider this decision as creating a precedent. In light of the unpredictable nature of case law in relation to copyright matters, the best option would be to rely on trademark law and therefore to register one’s trademark.