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Fight over gb.com claims thousands of victims

Thousands of companies that use the pseudo-top-level-domain .gb.com have gone offline due to a legal fight between the registry and its founder.

CentralNIC sells third-level gb.com domains as a “Great Britain” alternative to .co.uk. A Google search reveals a great many small businesses use the extension for their web sites.

They’re all out of luck today. Anybody attempting to access any .gb.com domain is now welcomed by a placeholder page, which states:

You may be here because you have been sold a domain or email service using the gb.com domain that has ceased to work.

You can restore that service swiftly by registering with GB.COM Ltd.

GB.COM Ltd will not provide a service that you have paid others for, unless they have an arrangement with GB.COM Ltd.

If you have already paid for future service and it has ceased then you should contact your supplier.

GB.com appears to be owned by Stephen Dyer, who founded CentralNIC in 2000, but left the company following a buyout several years ago.

“This interruption relates to a longstanding legal dispute regarding the domain name gb.com, dating back to when the current shareholders acquired the business in 2004,” CentralNIC said.

Historical Whois records show that the email address associated with gb.com switched from CentralNIC to a webmail account at some point in September that year.

It’s currently registered to steve@enovi.com, which appears to be a Dyer-owned domain.

CentralNIC evidently has been selling domains under an extension it was not in control of for the last seven years, and now whatever leasing agreement it had arranged has broken down.

The company said: “We are currently taking legal advice about this and will be taking urgent steps to restore the service, but we cannot achieve that instantly.”

Until a solution can be found, it recommends that affected registrants sign up with GB.com to (hopefully) quickly restore DNS service to their sites.

However, the new GB.com site is so painfully amateurish that some customers seem to have mistaken it for a phishing attack.

I have some additional advice – after your gb.com domain is resolving again, register a new domain in a proper TLD (.uk, .com) and redirect all your traffic to it until your users know where to find you.

Then cancel the gb.com domain.

GB.com Ltd has already demonstrated pretty comprehensively that it doesn’t give a damn about your business, so I think you’ll agree it doesn’t deserve your money.

There are ways to go about a registry transition seamlessly, and this most certainly is not one of them.

Quite how GB.com hopes to match newly signed-up customers with the true previous registrants is not entirely clear – there’s potential for abuse unless it has full access to CentralNIC’s thick Whois.

Also worth pondering — where’s all the email to .gb.com domains going?

While this is a commercial dispute, rather than a technical stability problem, it still Looks Bad for CentralNIC, which recently has been heavily marketing itself as a “.brand” back-end provider.

It shouldn’t harm the company’s ability to pass an ICANN technical evaluation, but it may give potential clients pause for thought.

Of the 20 pseudo-TLDs listed on CentralNIC’s site, at least three others – us.com, us.org and gr.com – appear to be registered in the names of third parties, according to Whois records.

There’s no reason to believe these domains are in any immediate danger, however. They don’t appear to have any connection to GB.com or Dyer.

CentralNIC said: “We can confirm, with absolute certainty, that no other CentralNic domain extensions are subject to any such disputes.”

That will come as little comfort to the thousands of small businesses that find themselves offline today.

One such customer has set up a LinkedIn group to discuss the situation, and Twitter traffic from customers seems to be increasing as British users wake up to the news.

UPDATE: It seems that Stephen Dyer has form.

He was also director of Snappy Designs Ltd, owner of the photo-hosting site Fotopic.net, which went into liquidation earlier this year, leaving thousands of photographers stranded.

Amateur Photographer reported in March that potentially millions of images could have been lost due to the business’s failure.

The site currently says the images are safe. Users do not have access to them, however.

(spotted by @whois_search)