UK Charities second class to domain squatters? A response from Nominet

Mr Phipps makes three main points about Nominet’s intent and the consequences of the move to second level domain registrations on .uk that I’d like to address. First, the suggestion that the move to ‘direct.uk’ is...

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Mr Phipps makes three main points about Nominet’s intent and the consequences of the move to second level domain registrations on .uk that I’d like to address.

First, the suggestion that the move to ‘direct.uk’ is unnecessary and being forced on brands.

To this, we would say that the introduction of hundreds of new generic top-level domains from ICANN (.shop, .brand, .london etc) will give website owners much greater choice and may signal a shift towards shorter, ‘snappier’ website addresses. We believe it signals a new era of competition in the domain space and .uk needs to remain relevant. We, of course, are committed to supporting and protecting the .uk namespace. Given the changing landscape, we need to be proactive in ensuring .uk is seen as up-to-date and desirable in the years ahead. We believe the consumers of tomorrow will expect shorter domain names. But we have not introduced this change without thinking long and hard about how to do this in a way that is fair, orderly, and puts our existing customers first.

It’s not always apparent at the point of change what the future will hold. We’re trying to ensure that .uk is similarly ahead of the curve, and this should, we hope, deliver additional value to brand managers in the future. Ultimately, no-one has to buy a second level .uk domain at all - but with this move we are giving those who want a shorter and trusted domain name a competitive option.

Second, suggesting that the .uk move is unfairly prejudiced against charities.

The first thing to point out is that any unique registration - whether .org.uk, .co.uk or .me.uk etc - is automatically offered the equivalent .uk domain. That covers over 96% of our 10 million registrations.

But because we already have a system of domains running in parallel -.co.uk, .org.uk, .me.uk - there are already addresses that have the same wording or ‘string’ before the dot in more than one suffix. The move to second level domain registrations necessitates a way to manage potential conflicts that is easy to understand, can be applied fairly, and is scalable. A case by case assessment of who best deserves a domain name was impractical, unwieldy and therefore never under consideration.

As well as analysing our data, we took a lot of feedback over the course of our consultations before taking our decision. We decided to manage conflicts by giving priority to the .co.uk registrant. We believe this is the best option, in that it is as fair as possible to as many people as possible within the .uk namespace, will minimise consumer confusion, and best reflects the perceptions and expectations within the domain name market. Our reasons for this include the fact that:

  • The vast majority of registrations in the .uk namespace are .co.uk - 93% compared to 7% for all others (.org.uk, .me.uk, etc) combined. This suggests .co.uk has come to be seen as the ‘default’ suffix for many UK businesses and consumers.
  • Where the same website name has different owners across the different suffixes, the .co.uk site generally has a higher number of visitors, making this approach less likely to cause consumer confusion.
  • The second-largest group (6%) are .org.uk registrations, and we understand that many .org.uk sites place a specific value on including the .org, as it indicates a ‘special’ status as a non-commercial organisation. Our conversations suggest that this is true for .org.uk sites to a much greater extent than for .co.uk sites, which don’t appear to place the same value on specifically indicating that they’re a commercial organisation. However, a majority (53%) of .org.uk registrants will in fact have first choice on the new .uk (around 30% because there is no identical .co.uk, and 23% because the person who owns the .org.uk also owns the .co.uk).
  • We took special care to prevent any ‘gaming’ of the system and protect existing registrations. We imposed a cut-off date (before we announced the decision to proceed) to ensure that .co.uk strings identical to one already registered in .org.uk but registered after the cut-off date would not be offered the equivalent .uk domain. The existing .org.uk registration would be offered the shorter .uk domain.


To the suggestion that charities have no right of recourse, and are frozen out for five years.

This misunderstands the situation on three fronts. First, charities where there is no .co.uk equivalent, or where they own them as well, can take up the .uk equivalent from 10 June. For the majority (53%) of those with .org.uk registrations, including many of the largest charities in the UK, this will be an option. In the meantime, .org.uk registration carries on as normal. There is no need to wait for any period of time to progress your domain name strategy.

Secondly, there is an implicit assumption that a .co.uk winning the equivalent .uk domain is inherently abusive. In fact, there are many legitimate uses of a domain name - including long established businesses and charities that hold the same strings.

Thirdly, any charity - or indeed any registrant - who feels that another registration is infringing their rights - can have their complaint examined at any time by our well respected Dispute Resolution Service. Anyone that has established usage rights to a term or phrase or character strings has had, since 2001, an independent, effective and low-cost means of contesting registrations which take unfair advantage of their rights. This can deliver a ruling within as few as two months, although many cases are quickly settled amicably through a mediated process. Thankfully the number of cases is very low in the context of over 10m .uk domain registrations, but I would encourage any charities who feel that their brand is being infringed to make use of that process.

Posted by Lesley Cowley, CEO, Nominet

 
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