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Fight over claims thousands of victims

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2011, 11:28:19 (UTC), Domain Registries

Thousands of companies that use the pseudo-top-level-domain have gone offline due to a legal fight between the registry and its founder.
CentralNIC sells third-level domains as a “Great Britain” alternative to 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 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 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. 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, dating back to when the current shareholders acquired the business in 2004,” CentralNIC said.
Historical Whois records show that the email address associated with switched from CentralNIC to a webmail account at some point in September that year.
It’s currently registered to, 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 to (hopefully) quickly restore DNS service to their sites.
However, the new site is so painfully amateurish that some customers seem to have mistaken it for a phishing attack.
I have some additional advice – after your 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 domain. 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 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 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 –, and – 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 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, 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)

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Comments (11)

  1. I created group Hijacked Domains – Group for anyone affected by this on Linkedin.:

  2. Samit Madan says:

    Pretty much underlines the issues with using a sub-domain for a company website instead of a fully qualified domain.
    Think your advice on using a new domain and using the old to redirect traffic to it might be the best option for website owners.
    And if there was a dispute CentralNIC shouldn’t have even been selling sub domains on this.

  3. This has happened before, with
    Ownership disputes was always going to be the issue with these sort of issues and was always heavily discounted to resellers compared to

  4. theo says:

    Hi Kevin.
    Not sure how it works in the UK but does the registrant company holds any ground there ?
    Here in the Netherlands we have tons of disputes whatever it be domain claims or transfer issues.
    Whenever you file a legal complaint here. Be it transfer issue etc etc the Dutch registry SIDN first verifies the domain name owner.
    If the registrant is a company then they can back that up with chambers of commerce papers and identity papers.
    How does that work in the UK ?
    Can the current registrant of proof that they run a legal company in the UK?
    Not exactly sure how that works for a .com legal wise.. I am not a lawyer.
    Got any insight here ?

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      I’m not quite sure I understand the question.
      It’s a .com domain, so there are no UK-specific rules that I know of.
      It’s been registered to Ltd, which is a real company, for some years.

  5. Nic says:

    Small issue:
    Is it fair to say the man has “form”, suggesting he acted improperly or criminally in some way? A “liquidation” is a failure. Everyone fails. Perhaps it was not his fault (???).
    LOVE your “advice” to registrants of these silly so called domains.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Not criminally.
      But leaving users of a paid-for web service unable to access their own data through no fault of their own just a few months ago certainly has similarities, don’t you think?
      Businesses can fail gracefully.

      • Nic says:

        Yes, I do think.
        What I also think (thought, when I read this) is that as new TLDs “fail” in different sorts of ways, reliability and security will become part of the value proposition of a TLD. Currently that is not an issue in the minds of name holders.
        Or perhaps not until now.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          Great point. There’s definitely scope for a blog post along the lines of “What happens when a new gTLD fails?”
          I’ve had one at the back of my mind for a few weeks now. Maybe time to bash it out.
          In short, ICANN has thought about this, and there are quite a few safeguards that would (probably) aid graceful failure.

  6. john says:

    This is pathetic Centralnic had the same problem a few years with domains. They charge very high prices for and compared to $7 for a real .com. If they cannot guarantee control of the domain then they clearly need to make this clear at the timne of registration. This is a major problem for the company and now thousands of business are losing real business by the day.

    • Michele says:

      From what I recall they stopped offering domains and gave users time to move to another domain ie. it was planned.
      Also, the wholesale price of a .com is higher than $7, so I’ve no idea where you’re pulling that figure from (and no, some special offer from $registrar doesn’t really count, as it’s not the actual real price)

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