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US dotcom keeps ownership of SouthAfrica.com

South Africa the country backs down

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The nation of South Africa has abandoned its fight to own the domain name southafrica.com.

The ownership battle began last year, when South African officials tried to wrestle the domain name from US dotcom Virtual Countries, which registered southafrica.com in 1995.

Virtual Countries owns a stack of country name-based sites, such as e-england.com and russia.com.

South Africa threatened to take its case to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

In retaliation, Virtual Countries filed a lawsuit against South Africa and the South African Tourist Board.

Last week the dispute came to a head - with US District Court Judge Allen G Schwartz dismissing Virtual Countries' suit because the New York court lacked jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. South Africa also said it would drop its threat to take the company to WIPO.

In dismissing the suit, the judge added that South Africa would be unlikely to succeed at WIPO under the current rules governing domain name disputes.

"This is a landmark case because a US court is for the first time saying countries are not going to get protection for their names," said Maxim Waldbaum, a senior partner at the New York office of law firm Salans who defended Virtual Countries in the case.

"Because the decision indicates that South Africa would likely lose any ownership challenge, the cloud that South Africa attempted to put on Virtual Countries' title to the domain name has passed."

South Africa is now waiting for a change in the law so it can claim the URL, according to Waldbaum. But for now it seems the country will have to be content with its dot net suffix. ®

Related Link

Virtualcountries.com

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