French domain names are notoriously difficult to obtain. The ‘liberalization’ of the procedure in 2004 had little effect on easing the process. Sure, non-French citizens could now register an .fr domain name but only if they provided a French Identity Card (Carte De Sejour) and a French address. So basically, yes you can register a domain as a foreign national err…providing you live in France.
Companies fair little better. They are welcome to make their registrations, providing they have trademark documents which are at least 6 months old and relate directly to their chosen domain name. Of course France does not recognize American patents or most national trademark documents; you have to obtain an International Trademark recognized under French law (WIPO). Adding insult to injury, the applicant also needs to provide a French street address for their administrative contact.
While other European registries seem to recognize the value in allowing outside individuals and companies to communicate and trade within their net space; France is the exception. The minefield of regulations surrounding .fr registration has kept all but a handful of persistent registrars from bothering them.
It was in my role as persistent registrar that we encountered this problem with colonial registration last week. The applicant resided in Guadeloupe, a small but idyllic group of islands in the Caribbean, which had been under French possession since 1635. Citizens of Guadeloupe are to all intents and purposes French in much the same way as Hawaii relates to the US. They have French passports, vote in the French elections and live under French law. They are not, however, entitled to register a French domain name.
This news did not go down well with our perspective registrant. French tourists are the primary income for Guadelopean businesses; our client felt entitled in marketing directly to them within French internet space. He is not alone though, for most colonies the target market for e-commerce is the colonial country. Ah I hear you say, but the search engines determine relevance on language these days not domain extensions. Surely writing their sites in French would mean inclusion within the French local searches?
Unfortunately French is a particular headache for the search engines as it is the official language of 25 countries, including Canada, Monaco and Ghana. French language alone does not carry inclusion into the localized French searches. Google and Yahoo! have attempted to help in this respect, both providing a separate search for ‘French languages’ but shouldn’t the Guadelopean’s have the right to make these marketing decisions themselves?
Colonies and overseas territories which see themselves as extensions of the colonial power should have some freedom of registration beyond geographical borders. While ICANN is allowing the domain name process to diverge on cultural grounds, the Guadelopean’s look to that as a factor for inclusion. They may just have a case.