EU-US at stand-off over .wine domain names

France is being broadly backed by the European Commission in its call for safeguards on who gets access to .wine and .vin internet domain names, setting up a potential legal showdown with the US government.

Enraged French officials said today (26 June) that the body responsible for assigning web domain names, ICANN, is unfit to govern.

Their comments are the latest in a week-long tirade from France’s government, which is upset that ICANN has refused to halt its planned release of .wine and .vin internet ‘top-level domain’ names.

Winemakers’ associations in Europe and also in ICANN’s home state of California have spent the past year lobbying for controls on who would be able to register a name such as Champagne, Bordeaux, Napa or Barolo using .wine or .vin. They argue the system will be open to fraud and could also confuse consumers.

The issue has reawakened a festering international dispute over whether the European Union should be able to use its Geographical Indications system to claim a monopoly on particular wine names. Although trade body Napa Valley Vintners has sided with its European counterparts, ICANN has been accused of favouring the US government’s long-held, anti-GI position.

The row could also have far-reaching repercussions for internet governance.

France is not alone in opposing the current ICANN plan for .wine and .vin domains, even if there has been some disquiet over the country’s decision to ‘act like a bull in a China shop’ – as one official who wished to remain anonymous termed the country’s stance.

It was the Italian government that wrote to ICANN’S board earlier this week, urging members to ‘reconsider’ the release .wine and .vin.

‘This is not only a commercial matter but one of extreme political sensitivity,’ said Antonello Giacomelli, of Italy’s ministry of economic development. ‘European and worldwide Geographic Indications must be given the same level of protection online that they have offline.’

That is also the opinion of the European Commission, which has been applying its own political pressure to get ICANN to introduce safeguards for protected wine names. The US, Australia and New Zealand have argued there is no need.

ICANN’s chairman, Stephen Crocker, said on the eve of discussions in London this week that the body’s 21-member board still plans to open .wine and .vin domains for registration as currently envisaged.

It is thought the dispute may end up in court, or even at the World Trade Organisation. Read more