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Nominet drops libel lawsuit against domain blogger

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2013, Domain Policy

UK registry Nominet has withdrawn its lawsuit against a domainer who had allegedly published “defamatory” remarks about CEO Lesley Cowley on his blog.

The defamation complaint was filed against Graeme Wingate over his blog Avoid.co.uk in January.

Nominet said yesterday that it “continues to refute entirely the untrue allegations made” on the site, which focuses on Cowley’s “dishonest” behavior surrounding Direct.uk and the ongoing controversy related to the 2008 board-level scandal and subsequent employment tribunal of former policy chief Emily Taylor.

Cowley said in a statement:

With a major programme of work underway to transform the .uk namespace, this action is now an unwelcome distraction. I refute the allegations entirely, but recognise that a far better use of the team’s time and energy is to focus on steering Nominet safely through a period of unprecedented change.

Nominet will pay Wingate’s costs.

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a win for Wingate, who has continued to blog throughout the legal proceedings.

Wingate stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Nominet’s board of directors this year, alongside fellow Nominet critic Lucien Taylor, husband to Emily.

Nominet sues domainer gripe site for defamation

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Nominet has sued a fierce critic of the organization after apparently trying and failing to have his web site shut down.

The company, which runs .uk, said is has filed High Court defamation proceedings against Graeme Wingate and his company That Internet Limited, seeking an injunction against that.co.uk and avoid.co.uk.

The two sites have since last October last year carried a number of rambling allegations against Nominet and, more specifically, its CEO, Lesley Cowley.

Wingate, like many .uk domainers, is furious that Nominet plans to launch direct second-level registrations under .uk, giving trademark owners sunrise priority over owners of matching .co.uk domains.

While that.co.uk focuses mainly on this Direct.uk initiative, avoid.co.uk takes broader swipes at Cowley specifically, stating:

the idea behind Avoid.co.uk is to focus solely on the leadership of Ms Lesley Cowley, Chief Executive of Nominet and her immediate removal as CEO on the grounds of dishonestly, transparency and incompetence.

While not spelling out exactly what content it considers defamatory, Nominet said:

While we are entirely comfortable with legitimate protest about Nominet’s actions or proposals, there are assertions about Nominet and our CEO published on the avoid.co.uk and that.co.uk sites that are untrue and defamatory.

The Board is united in its view that harassment and victimisation of our staff is unacceptable, and that Nominet should take appropriate action to support staff and protect our reputation.

According to avoid.co.uk, Nominet tried to get the sites taken down by their web hosts on at least two separate occasions since November. It’s moved to a Chinese host in an attempt to avoid these takedown attempts.

The antagonism between some domainers and Cowley is long-running, rooted in a clash between domainer members of its board of directors and senior executives in 2008.

As I reported for The Register last August, evidence emerged during an employment tribunal case with a “whistleblower”, former policy chief Emily Taylor, that Nominet may have secret colluded with the UK government in order to architect a reform process that would give domainers substantially less power over the company.

It later emerged that Nominet and UK civil servants communicated via private email addresses during this process, apparently in order to dodge Freedom Of Information Act requests.

A subsequent internal investigation by Nominent chair Baroness Rennie Fritchie last November concluded that “Nominet did not manufacture Government concern” and that the private emails were a “misguided attempt to ensure that open and honest conversations… could take place” rather than attempts to avoid FOI.