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Domainers could lose their names as .au loophole closes

Kevin Murphy, June 14, 2018, 13:13:26 (UTC), Domain Policy

Domain investors dabbling in the .au space could face losing their names under new policies set to be proposed.

The .au Policy Review Panel, which helps set policy for Australian ccTLD registry auDA, said this week it is thinking about closing a loophole related to domain monetization that has allowed “speculation and warehousing” in violation of longstanding rules.

Monetized domains are “largely detrimental” to .au and rules permitting the practice should be scrapped, the panel is expected to formally conclude.

Anyone currently monetizing domains could be given as little as a day to comply with the new rules or face losing their names.

The expected recommendations were outlined in a memo (pdf) penned by panel chair John Swinson, an intellectual property lawyer, who wrote:

the Panel received a lot of feedback and information from the public that Domain Monetisation is largely detrimental to the name space. Feedback, including from sophisticated businesses, domain brokers and portfolio owners, was one could register almost any domain name under the Domain Monetisation rule, and that the current rules were unclear, and that domain names were being registered under the cover of Monetisation primarily for the purposes of resale or warehousing (which is contrary to the current policy).

Current auDA policy on domaining, dating from 2012, is pretty clear when it comes to domainers: “A registrant may not register a domain name for the sole purpose of resale or transfer to another entity.”

However, there’s a loophole when it comes to domains that are monetized with ad links. If a domain is monetized, reselling no longer becomes its “sole purpose”.

Another auDA policy also from 2012 specifically permits monetization as a valid reason for owning a .com.au or .net.au name.

It says that monetized domains must carry ad content relevant to the topic of the domain, and that there should be no brand infringement in the domain itself.

Swinson’s panel agreed in a May 1 meeting (pdf) that this rule should be scrapped.

It’s not entirely clear what would come to replace it, as the panel doesn’t seem likely to actually ban monetization as such. Swinson wrote:

Because the current rules are outdated, inconsistent and unclear, it is difficult to enforce the current rules that prevent the registration of domain names for domain speculation and warehousing.

The Panel’ s current view is that Domain Monetisation will not be banned, but of itself will not be a basis to meet the allocation criteria.

The “allocation criteria” refers to the eligibility requirements for .au domains, which currently require a “close and substantial” link between the registrant and the name.

The panel’s memo states that there would be a “grandfathering” period during which domainers whose sites do not comply with the new policy would have time to update them:

The Panel’s current view is to recommend that any new eligibility and allocation rules should apply on the next renewal of a domain name license. This will give domain name licensees who meet the current rules, but who will not meet any new rules, time to deal with the non-compliance.

The problem here of course is that the “next renewal” could be anywhere from a day to two years away, depending on the domain. That’s probably an area the panel needs to look at.

The monetization issue is one of several addressed in the panel’s interim report (pdf), which also looks at the possibility of direct, second-level domain registration.

Any new policy on either issue is still many months away.

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Comments (4)

  1. Snoopy says:

    For auDA to suggest this is a loophole is highly misleading. They’ve specifically allowed names to be registered for monetization under their policies.

    They are now talking about retrospectively change their policies so compliant names are suddenly non compliant.

    This could result in hundreds of thousands of names being deleted and they’d end up back on the drop auctions. Just the act of putting this proposal out for suggestion is going to have detrimental effect on .com.au even if it never sees the light of day.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      The word “loophole” is mine, but I think it’s a fair take.

      • Snoopy says:

        Not problem.

        I should point out also, domainer won’t be able to get compliant by changing site content.

        They will have to meet some other eligibility criteria if the monetisation criteria goes. e.g. register a company or business in the same name as the domain.

        In short it is unlikely that many will be able to jump through the hoops required under this proposal.

  2. Nic says:

    The policy was established specifically to accomodate a business model, in the .au name space. Domain professionals have relied on the policy in carrying out their business. Use of the word ‘loophole’ is, in my view, subjective, patronising and does not reflect the situation. It suggests that domain professionals have been acting improperly in some way. As I say, the policy was established specifically to accomodate domain pros. Whether or not the policy is changed is beside the point. (But, sincerely, thank you for your work.)

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