Tug of war over Swiss internet address

Screenshot of the site with the coveted web address

The federal authorities and a Swiss businessman are locked in a dispute over a sought-after internet domain name.

This content was published on January 6, 2006 - 16:02

The state claims to have a legitimate right to three specific URLs -, as well as

The federal administration wants to re-direct users of these addresses to its own internet portal,, which was set up by the federal, cantonal and local authorities.

The multi-language site was initially designed as a public service for citizens, but drew criticism after it ran up high costs and failed to attract many visitors.

But the owner of the controversial domain names has refused to give up hands down.

"I registered the addresses back in 1995 and invested a considerable amount of time and money," said Stefan C. Frei from Zurich, who runs his website together with two partners.

Links, icons, T-shirts

Their German-language site lists texts and links dealing with Swiss politics and history, and offers a range of services, including free email addresses, travel tips and access to a dating agency for singles.

It is also an online sales platform for clothes, bags as well as Swiss icons for mobile phones.

Frei told swissinfo he was keen on maintaining his offer and he believes that there will be much more interest now that Switzerland has qualified for the football World Cup.

He added that on various occasions he had been offered substantial amounts of money for the addresses, but had always declined. "I'm not interested in that sort of thing."

Legitimate right

For their part, the federal authorities have made it clear that they are not willing to cut a financial deal, as they claim to have a legitimate right to the URLs.

"We're certainly not going to pay any money for the addresses," said Thomas Sägesser who heads the legal department of the Federal Chancellery.

The administration says the country's highest court set a precedent when it ruled in favour of local authorities in two similar disputes about local domain names.

However, Frei's lawyer argues that his case is of a different legal dimension.

"It is not about unlawful competition or a question of confusing addresses, the issue here is the use of an internet portal about the whole of Switzerland," lawyer Urs Kraft told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Alternative address

Frei says he can't make rhyme or reason of the strategy of the federal administration.

The authorities approached him for the first time in 2000 and told him they needed his URLs for a virtual desk, an official site aimed at making services of the administration more accessible to citizens.

He refused to hand over his web address, but suggested the authorities use an alternative URL - - for this purpose, which they have been doing since.

Several years on, the chancellery argues it wants the coveted address to further develop e-government, the state's electronic services, he said.

Frei said he had offered to put a banner with a special link on his site to attract possible readers to the federal administration website, but his suggestion fell on deaf ears.

"All they were prepared to do was to pay the fee for the de-registration of our domain name, and I can't take this seriously."

The federal authorities told swissinfo they are sorry that a compromise over the issue appeared not to be possible.

Sägesser said the Federal Chancellery would decide by the end of January what action if any to take against Frei.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

The federal, cantonal and local authorities launched in 2000 as the national online service centre.
The joint project cost SFr18 million ($13.7 million) and was fully operational a year ago.
The site underwent an overhaul following criticism over costs and because the service is apparently not well known.
The multi-language site (in German, French and Italian, with plans for a version in English) is now a national portal on information on the public authorities.
The site was launched in 1995 as a private business venture.

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