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Nominet may owe its members millions, top lawyer says

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Registries

Nominet has been charging its thousands of members annual subscription fees unlawfully for the last quarter-century, it has been claimed.

Ian Mitchell KC, who you may recall was hired by a handful of members to opine that Nominet’s voting system may be illegal, has now delivered a follow-up opinion saying that any subscription fees it has collected since 1997 should not have been paid.

Nominet non-executive director election candidate Jim Davies, one of the members who obtained the opinions, is now calling for Nominet to postpone its Annual General Meeting and the election, scheduled to take place next week, while these legal issues are addressed.

Mitchell’s opinion states that Nominet’s Articles allowed it to set a membership fee for members prior to August 29, 1997, barely a year after the company was founded, but that subsequent fees had to be set with a bylaws change approved by 75% of the membership.

That never happened, he says, meaning:

there has been no basis within the terms of the articles for subscriptions to be set and collected from and after 31st August, 1997. It follows, therefore, that the subscriptions which were collected ought not to have been paid.

Nominet has about 2,500 members, each of whom pay a £400 application fee and a £100 per year subscription. Clearly, over 25 years, that could amount to many millions of pounds.

But Mitchell also suspects Nominet could be protected by the UK’s statute of limitations, reducing its exposure to just the last six years and around £1.5 million.

Mitchell’s opinion was paid for by member Dulwich Storage, owned by former director Angus Hanton, as part of the Davies-led WeightedVoting.uk campaign, which is calling for Nominet to scrap its system that gives its members more votes depending on how many .uk domains they have registered.

Davies says he informed Nominet’s board about Mitchell’s latest opinion last week but has not received a response. So he’s now also written to Civica, the election services company that oversees Nominet ballots, to “to step in and adjourn the AGM”.

Postponing the AGM would also postpone the NED election in which Davies, former reporter Kieren McCarthy and CentralNic lawyer Volker Greimann are vying for an opening seat on the board. Voting closes in a couple of days.

While Mitchell called the subscriptions situation a “recipe for litigation”, Davies says he has no intention of suing Nominet. He says he wants, in Mitchell’s words, for “members [to] come together to see if it is possible to find a consensual way out of the mess which has undoubtedly been created”.

It’s not entirely clear what a solution would look like.

Scrapping the voting system in favor of one-member-one-vote would likely disadvantage candidates relying on winning with the backing of a small number of large registrars, which Davies believes is Greimann’s strategy.

Davies’ headline policy has been to slash .uk registration fees back to £2.50, while McCarthy and Greimann have platforms focused on transparency and member engagement.

Nominet has said that it believes its weighted voting system is lawful. The company has been contacted for comment on the latest legal drama.

.br tops five million names

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Registries

Brazil’s .br ccTLD has topped five million registered domains for the first time.

Stats provided by registry NIC.br show that the milestone was passed around September 14.

The last million names have been added in just the last few years — .br hit four million in late March 2019 and started a steep climb when the pandemic began a year later.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief has .br as the sixth-largest ccTLD, but the most up-to-date statistics have .br actually passing .ru, which has been bleeding regs for the last six months and now has fewer than five million, into fifth place.

NIC.br says that surveys show that seven out of every eight domains registered by Brazilians are .br names.

Ukrainians urged to “de-Russify” their domains

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Registries

There’s reportedly a push in Ukraine to get registrants of Russian-transliterated TLDs to switch to their matching Ukrainian versions.

Ukraine’s .ua offers domains in dozens of second-level domains, many of which correspond to the names of cities, such as kyiv.ua and .kharkiv.ua.

But while pretty much everyone in the Anglophone world and elsewhere has started using the Ukrainian transliterations as standard in the six months since Russia invaded, Ukrainian domain registrants have been slow to follow.

According to local registry Hostmaster, today there are 38,564 names registered in the Russian .kiev.ua, but only 1,965 in the Ukrainian .kyiv.ua.

Now local hosting company and registrar HOSTiQ is now reportedly offering customers the chance to swap their Russian domains for the Ukrainian equivalents for free.

.ua as a whole has over 580,000 registered names.

.com and .net are the drag factor on domain industry growth

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign’s own gTLDs .com and .net slowed overall domain industry volume growth in the second quarter, according to its latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

June ended with 351.5 million registrations across all TLDs, up 1 million sequentially and 10.4 million year-over-year.

Growth would have been slightly better without the drag factor of .com and .net, which were down 200,000 domains each sequentially, as Verisign previously reported in its Q2 financial results. There were 161.1 million names in .com and 13.2 million in .net.

The ccTLD world grew by 700,000 names sequentially and 2.6 million compared to a year earlier, the DNIB states.

New gTLD names were up by the same amount sequentially and 4.1 million year over year, ending the quarter at 27 million.

Nominet gets new CFO

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Nominet has recruited Vodafone’s head of finance to be its new CFO.

The company announced today that Carolyn Bedford will join on December 1, and will also take an executive director seat on the board.

She replaces Ben Hill, who was one of several directors removed from the board in a member coup in March 2021.

PIR will launch .giving next month with unusual landrush rules

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2022, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry has revealed the launch dates for its recently acquired gTLD .giving, and it seems the former registry will also play a prominent role.

PIR has told ICANN it will run .giving’s sunrise period from October 13 to December 13. It’s an “end date” sunrise, where domains are only allocated at the end of the period, but the criteria for resolving competing claims is first-come-first-served.

The landrush period will run from December 20 to January 20, but there’s an unusual twist requiring registrants to buy, or at least “evaluate”, an e-commerce service:

As a condition to registering a domain name in the .GIVING during Landrush (December 20, 2022 through January 20, 2023), you agree that by registering your domain name, you represent and warrant that: (a) you currently use one of Blackbaud’s digital giving solutions or will evaluate the free Giving Checkout solution offered by JustGiving from Blackbaud available at this link and (b) you acknowledge and agree that the Registry or the registrar can cancel the registration of the domain name if your warranty is found to be untrue, incomplete, incorrect, or misleading.

Blackbaud is the company that operates JustGiving, a fund-raising web site chiefly popular in the UK. It was also the original registry for .giving, although of course it never actually launched the TLD.

PIR says general availability will begin January 20. It appears there will be six premium-price tiers, but renewals will be at the regular fee.

CentralNic picks up marketing firm for up to $19 million

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2022, Domain Registries

CentralNic has made yet another acquisition, this time of a young Israeli online marketing company in a deal worth up to $19 million.

The company said it is buying M.A Aporia Ltd for $11.2 million, with the possibility of up to an extra $7.8 million in performance-related payouts by 2024.

Aporia provides services that research audiences and target advertising. CentralNic said it had revenue of $35 million last year, along with gross profit of $3.5 million and EBITDA of $2 million.

But CentralNic said the company is an exclusive supplier and therefore won’t increase its top line in the short term. Instead, it will improve margins and earnings by cutting out a middleman from the online marketing business.

CEO Ben Crawford described the move as “disintermediating the value chain… removing transaction costs and friction losses”.

ICANN director’s registry CEO job up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2022, Domain Registries

DotAsia is looking for a new CEO after 15 years of operation, DI understands.

Edmon Chung has been made Acting CEO and the board of the registry will start looking for a replacement by October 7, according to a source.

I’m told the board passed a resolution last week stating: “In pursuit of the fundamentals of transparency, accountability and fair competition, and in the DotAsia community best interests, the CEO contract should be put for open tender”.

Chung, who joined ICANN’s board of directors a year ago, will not be barred from reapplying for his job.

DotAsia, which of course runs .asia, was one of the successful registries in ICANN’s 2003 “sponsored” gTLD round.

The TLD launched in 2017 and currently has around 200,000 domains under management.

The DotAsia Organization in a non-profit entity with a complicated organizational structure involving several Asian ccTLDs.

CentralNic passes on abandoned dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2022, Domain Registries

CentralNic has sold on the dead dot-brand it acquired last year, to a company run by Sav.com’s CEO.

.case was originally owned by CNH Industrial, a large maker of industrial machinery, but it was sold off to CentralNic subsidiary Helium last year when the company dumped its portfolio of unwanted dot-brands.

I speculated at the time that it was acquired merely to be sold — Helium previously acted as an interregnum operators of .fans, and that turned out to be correct. CentralNic did nothing with it — the NIC page still shows images of diggers — and it has no registered domains.

The new owner is a company called Digity, whose president is Sav.com CEO Anthos Chrysanthou.

GoCompare makes a big bet on a new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2022, Domain Registries

GoCompare, one of the most recognizable online brands in the UK, is rebranding to Go.Compare, with a corresponding switch to the new gTLD domain name go.compare.

The insurance price-comparison site announced the move, which is being backed up by a three-month prime-time TV advertising campaign, during the series premiere of talent show The Voice UK, which it now sponsors, on Saturday night.

The brand may be unfamiliar to readers outside of the UK, but here it’s pretty well-known due in no small part to its relentless TV ads, which feature a fictional Italian opera singer. There can’t be many Brits who don’t recognize the jingle, once described as the “most irritating” on TV.

And that jingle now has an extra syllable in it — the word “dot”. The company described the sponsorship like this:

As part of the sponsorship, Go.Compare’s operatic tenor Gio Compario and the actor who plays him, Wynne Evans, are both in the judging chairs, auditioning to find a new voice to help them sing the new brand jingle and play the ‘dot’ in the new website URL. The series will follow Gio and Wynne on their journey to find the best ‘dot.’

This is the first ad:

The company said the rebranding, in phrasing likely to irk many in the domain industry, “means that anyone now looking to use the comparison service will be able search on any device using ‘Go.Compare’, and they will be taken directly to the website.”

It’s inviting customers to direct-navigate, but calling it “search”.

Paul Rogers, director of brand and campaigns, said in a press release:

Behind this, the decision to bring the “dot” into the mix now means that our website is easier to find – regardless of browser or device, all you need to know now is Go.Compare and you’re there. It’s basically taking out the middleman and making it easier for people to find us directly

Go.Compare has been using gocompare.com since it launched in 2006, and that domain is still live, not redirecting, and showing up as the top search result for the company. The domain go.compare does not redirect to the .com, however.

The company’s social media handles now all use the new brand.

The .compare gTLD is a pretty obscure one, that truthfully even I had forgotten exists.

It started off owned by Australian insurance provider iSelect, originally intended as a dot-brand, but sold off alongside .select to Neustar, then its back-end provider, in 2019.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar’s registry business the following year and has since then sold just a few hundred .compare domains, very few of which actually appear to be in use.

I’m not suggesting .compare is suddenly going to explode, but the rebranding and accompanying high-profile marketing effort is surely useful to the new gTLD industry in general, raising awareness that not every web site has to end in .com or .uk.