Conflict Over .wine Ferments Between Trade Groups, France, ICANN

The forthcoming launch of an array of new top-level domains includes both .wine and .vin—something winemakers are worried could dilute their regionally focused brands. And with France involved, the situation is threatening to turn into something of an international trade crisis.

It’s no secret that winemakers (like their fellow artisans, cheesemakers) are protective of their names, but a spat over domain names threatens some tech-world spillover.

And that has trade groups, along with some powerful government allies, concerned. More details:

The problem, in a nutshell: As dot-com top-level domains (TLDs) become overly crowded, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been launching a wide array of new TLDs for such generic terms as “books,” “music,” “hotel,” and many others. On that list are two other common words: “wine” and its French equivalent, “vin.” This has winemakers upset, because they’re very protective of the geographical nature of their products, which, to a degree, have their location-tied branding protected by European Union rules. It’s why you can’t make Cava outside of Catalonia, Spain, and still call it Cava.

Associations speak up: While many industries have been welcoming to the idea of more granular domain names, trade groups representing the wine industry on both sides of the Atlantic—including the U.S. Champagne Bureau and the Napa Valley Vintners—say that a new top-level domain threatens efforts to protect a wine’s geographic brand. “The importance of protecting winegrowing place names is critical to all winegrowing regions of quality; it is not solely a European issue,” the Napa Valley group’s President and CEO Linda Reiff wrote to ICANN, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Internet users could indeed be deceived into believing that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, when they are in fact getting an imitation.”

A major trade conflict? The domain issue has even spread as far as the French government, which has sided with its country’s winemakers against ICANN, going so far as to imply the conflict over the domain names could imperil future European trade talks with the United States. France even threatened to remove itself from the ICANN reform process over the domain names, with the country’s Ministère de l’Économie du Redressement Productif et du Numérique arguing that the organization is not the right place to discuss issues of internet governance. The issue came up at ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee meeting in London last month, but the sides failed to come to an agreement.

ICANN has put forth effort to protect brand owners, including last year’s launch of the Trademark Clearinghouse, where companies can preregister domains before squatters get to them.

But that may not be enough for something as broadly named as champagne. Speaking to the Napa Valley Register, Sam Heitner, the Champagne Bureau’s director, noted that the new TLDs put a monitoring burden on winemakers that they didn’t ask for.

“You have to police another two extensions in addition to .com and all the others we’re already monitoring,” Heitner said. “It’s very costly and open to multiple places where consumers could be confused.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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