France has stepped up its offensive on global internet regulation and governance, in an effort to protect its wine.
The planned launch of a ".wine" and ".vin" internet domain name by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – a U.S. based, non-profit organization tasked with coordinating the global Internet domain name system – has been virulently criticised in the European Union (EU) and France in particular.
The issue has become highly political. France has warned that the launch of a ".wine" domain name could derail talks on a transatlantic trade deal. Meanwhile, other EU members, still reeling from the revelations in the wake of the NSA scandal, see the wrangle over domain names as just another example of U.S. control over the internet.
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Earlier this year, the U.S. government agreed to relinquish control over the California-based organization and this week's ICANN meeting in London is meant to further discussions as to which body should replace it.
France is campaigning for ICANN to be reformed, claiming that European concerns regarding the ".wine" domain name launch were ignored.
In a letter to the organization dated on June 18, the country's minister for the digital economy, Axelle Lemaire, wrote that "the lack of adequate redress mechanisms and, above all, the lack of accountability demonstrate the need for significant reform of ICANN even before the current debate on the global Internet governance system comes to a conclusion".
France has several protected wine and spirit designations, one of those being Champagne. As such, only sparkling wines made in the French Champagne region can be called Champagne.
The French government called for "internationally recognised Geographical Indications"- such as Champagne- to receive the same amount of protection both on- and off-line.
Rejecting ICANN's argument that too much control and regulation could slow down trade, France believes that putting in place safeguards, such as the requirement to demonstrate that the website-owner holds a "legitimate title or licence to trade in wines protected by Geographical Indications" would not "constitute a restriction to legitimate trade".
France and its European partners are not the only ones who are affected. In early April, the Napa Valley vintners - a non-profit trade association representing the interest of the Napa Valley wine industry - also wrote a letter to ICANN advocating safeguards to be put in place or for the ".wine" and ".vin" domain names to be withdrawn altogether.
"When it comes to wine, location matters," the letter states, adding that the domain names could lead to fraudulent use of Wine related Geographical Indications and deceive Internet users "into believing that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, when they are in fact getting an imitation".
Alain Bensoussan, a French lawyer specialist in digital rights told CNBC by phone that this issue is likely to come up again and again as "with each product, regulation is likely to be different". The problem lies in the fact the domain names are international while individual countries have separate regulations on certain products.
At the moment, he explained, six candidates are bidding for the ".loi" (".law") domain name in France and in order for his practice to use this domain, he will then have to ask permission and pay the owner.
Brands should be protected, said Bensoussan, as it is unlikely that "anybody but Dior will be able to use '.dior'", but more generic terms won't. The World Trade Organization is likely to give the final verdict on the matter, the lawyer said.
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