Take Charities Seriously, Nominet

The UK's domain naming authority Nominet responded to my post last week criticising them for discriminating against UK charities. Much of the response by their CEO Lesley Cowley was to my throwaway remark about the need for more domains at all....

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The UK's domain naming authority Nominet responded to my post last week criticising them for discriminating against UK charities. Much of the response by their CEO Lesley Cowley was to my throwaway remark about the need for more domains at all. Let's leave that aside and focus on the main issue; the ability of UK Charities to secure a .uk domain fairly. 

When we do so, we discover Nominet have said almost nothing about the issue I raised -- it is a reply in name only. They have not refuted my assertion of unfairness -- despite claiming I "misunderstand". They have not offered a meaningful resolution to Britain's charities where there's an existing owner of the equivalent .co.uk domain. They have confirmed how many are affected (they prefer to say "53% of charities are OK" but the inverse -- 47% of charities have a problem -- tells the real story). In doing so they have underlined the need for change. 

First, the most valid point they make. Nominet comment that many charities opted for a .org.uk domain alone, and did not bother to register the .co.uk domain name. That's true; for some, the .co.uk name was not considered relevant, and for others it was already owned. But just because they didn't want the .co.uk -- not being a "business" -- that doesn't mean they won't want the .uk domain when it becomes available.

Nominet's rules make no allowance for that reality. Rather than recognising there might be conflicting valid claims for a domain name, they simply give arbitrary preference to the owner of the .co.uk domain. There's no room for common sense discussion; Nominet simply say that Charities should use the standard dispute process.

Saying the dispute process can be used is inadequate. It is no help at all until the .co.uk has grabbed the .uk domain, which can happen at any random time in the next five years.  Moreover, there's no guarantee it will help with cases where the outcome that ought to occur is obvious to a reasonable person but unclear under the dispute process. In the case of the Asthma UK charity, the .co.uk is owned by a domain squatter displaying advertisements on a generic landing page. As such, they are ineligible to register asthma.uk until June 2019, despite the domain name obviously representing their organisation, and unable even to dispute the issue until the squatter makes their move.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, told me: “As a charity we are very disappointed by this move from Nominet. By introducing this new capability it is clear that they are not taking into consideration the issues that some charities will have when it comes to domain squatters. We would like to see an exemption created for charities and for Nominet to provide more support to charities affected by this change.”

Surely owners of .org.uk and .co.uk domains at the cut-off date should be equally able to apply in June? A process fair to both is feasible; a notification to the other domain owner, a chance to assert reasons for each why their claim takes preference, an opportunity for a gracious concession or finally arbitration.

The current process assumes .co.uk owners will usually be the right claimants, provides no way to address claims by charities until those claims are staked and leaves them to waste time on a heavyweight dispute process to fix it. Nominet's response helps no-one. It's time for them to reconsider and take charities seriously instead of brushing concerns aside.

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