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“Stringent” new online censorship law could affect domain companies

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

Blame Zuck.

The UK government is planning to introduce what it calls “stringent” new laws to tackle abusive behavior online, and there’s a chance it could wind up capturing domain name registries and registrars in its net.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning published what it calls the Online Harms White Paper, an initial 12-week consultation document that could lead to legislation being drafted at a later date.

The paper calls for the creation of a new independent regulator, charged with overseeing social media companies’ efforts to reduce the availability of content such as incitements to violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, “hate crime” and even “fake news”.

It basically would increase the amount of liability that companies have for user-generated content hosted on their services, even when that content is not necessarily illegal but is nevertheless considered “harmful”.

The regulator would have to create a code of conduct for companies the legislation covers to abide by.

When the code is breached, the regulator would have the authority to issue fines — possibly comparable to the 4% of profits that can be fined under GDPR — against not only the companies themselves but also their senior management.

The paper seems to most directly address ongoing tabloid scandals related to Facebook and its ilk, such as the suicide of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who viewed material related to self-harm on Instagram before her death.

While it does not mention domain names once, the government clearly anticipates casting a wide net. The paper states:

The scope will include companies from a range of sectors, including social media companies, public discussion forums, retailers that allow users to review products online, along with non-profit organisations, file sharing sites and cloud hosting providers.

That’s a broad enough definition such that it could even cover blogs, including this one, that allow users to post comments.

The paper also discusses asking search engines to remove sites from their indexes, and compelling ISPs to block abusive sites as a “last resort” measure.

There’s a short mental hop from ISP blocking to domain name takedowns, in my view.

The paper also discusses steps the regulator could take to ensure companies with no UK legal presence are still covered by the rules.

While the paper, as I say, does not mention the domain name industry once, subsidiary services provided by registrars, such as hosting, could be directly affected.

There’s no guarantee that the paper will become a bill. There’s already a backlash from those who believe it constitutes unacceptable censorship, comparable to regimes such as in China.

There’s also no guarantee such a bill would eventually become law. The UK government is arguably currently the weakest it has ever been, with a propped-up minority in Parliament and many MPs in open revolt over Brexit.

With talk of an early general election incessant recently, it’s also possible the government may not last long enough to bring its plans to fruition.

Still, it’s probably something the domain industry, including ICANN, should probably keep an eye on.

The full 100-page white paper can be found here (pdf) and an executive summary can be read here.

Most .uk registrants not interested in .uk

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2019, Domain Registries

The majority of people eligible to register .uk domains at the second level have not yet chosen to do so, according to local registry Nominet.

Numbers the company released this week show that only two million 2LD .uk names have been registered since they first became available five years ago.

That’s despite the fact that the owners of over 10 million domains registered at the third level, such as under .co.uk or .org.uk, had exclusive rights to those names.

Today, the owners of 3.2 million .uk 3LDs have yet to exercise their grandfathered rights, Nominet said.

Those rights expire 0500 UTC June 25 this year.

Nominet plans to ramp up its outreach to affected registrants with radio, print and online ads in May, the company has previously told DI.

If you’re wondering why two million plus 3.2 million does not add up to 10 million, that’s because over the last five years about half of original 10 million domains with grandfathering rights have dropped.

Many will have been re-registered (which does not transfer the rights) or have been replaced with different fresh registrations, which is why Nominet’s total 3LDs under management has only declined from 10.4 million to 9.7 million since 2014.

At eleventh hour, most .uk registrants still don’t own their .uk names

Less than a quarter of all third-level .uk registrants have taken up the opportunity to buy their matching second-level domain, just a few months before the deadline.

According to February stats from registry Nominet, 9.76 million domains were registered under the likes of .co.uk and .org.uk, but only 2.27 million domains were registered directly under .uk, which works out at about 23%.

Nominet’s controversial Direct.uk policy was introduced in June 2014, with a grandfathering clause that gave all third-level registrants five years to grab their matching .uk domain before it returns to the pool of available names.

So if you own example.co.uk, you have until June 25 this year, 110 days from now, to exercise your exclusive rights to example.uk.

Registrants of .co.uk domains have priority over registrants of matching .org.uk and .me.uk domains. Nominet’s Whois tool can be used to figure out who has first dibs on any given string.

At least two brand protection registrars warned their clients this week that they will be at risk of cybersquatting if they don’t pick up their direct matches in time. But there’s potential for confusion here, after the deadline, whether or not you own a trademark.

I expect we could see a spike in complaints under Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service (the .uk equivalent of UDRP) in the back half of the year.

Nominet told DI in a statement today:

The take up right now is roughly in line with what we envisaged. We knew from the outset that some of the original 10 million with rights would not renew their domain, some would decide they did not want the equivalent .UK and some would leave it to the last minute to decide or take action. The feedback from both registrants and registrars, and the registration data, bears this out.

The statement added that the registry has started “ramping up” its outreach, and that in May it will launch “an advertising and awareness campaign” that will include newspapers, radio and trade publications.

Nominet takes down 32,000 domains for IP infringement

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2018, Domain Registries

The number of .uk domains suspended by Nominet has doubled over the last year, almost entirely due to takedown requests concerning intellectual property.

The .uk registry said this week that it suspended 32,813 domains in the 12 months to October 31, up from 16,632 in the year-ago period.

It’s the fourth year in a row that the number of suspensions has more than doubled. In 2014, it was a paltry 948.

While Nominet has trusted notifier relationships with 10 law enforcement agencies, it’s the Police Intellectual Property Crimes Unit that is responsible for almost all of the takedown requests, 32,669 this year.

No court order or judicial review is required. Nominet simply carries out unspecified “administrative checks” then suspends the domain.

Only 114 domains did not make the cut this year, Nominet said, but that’s up considerably from 32 last year.

There’s an appeals mechanism that can be used by registrants to restore their domains, for example if they’ve removed the infringing content. It was used successfully 16 times in the year, up by one on last year.

The registry also reported that no domains were suspended due to its ban on incitement-to-rape domains, down from two last year, but that staff had to manually review 2,717 new registrations containing suspect strings.

Nominet to donate over $260,000 to Children In Need

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Registries

UK ccTLD registry Nominet said today that it will donate £1 ($1.31) for every domain registered to the charity Children In Need.

The initiative, which runs from today until November 19, is being backed up with a £200,000 ($261,000) minimum donation commitment.

Every paid-for domain in .co.uk, .uk, .me.uk and .org.uk will count.

The .uk space typically has been doing about 125,000 to 130,000 new regs per month recently, across all subdomains and direct .uk, so we’re looking at a potentially substantial donation here.

The money raised will help fund technology-related youth projects across the UK, Nominet said.

Judging by today’s press release, non-profit Nominet is calling itself a “profit with a purpose” company nowadays.

Children In Need is a charity run by the BBC. It broadcasts a fundraising telethon every year, typically raising tens of millions of pounds.

This year’s show is being broadcast November 16.