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UK gov takes its lead from ICANN on DNS abuse

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2024, Domain Registries

The UK government has set out how it intends to regulate UK-related top-level domain registries, and it’s taken its lead mostly from existing ICANN policies.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said last year that it was to activate the parts of the Digital Economy Act of 2010 that allow it to seize control of TLDs such as .uk, .london, .scot, .wales and .cymru, should those registries fail to tackle abuse in future.

It ran a public consultation that attracted a few dozen responses, but has seemingly decided to stick to its original definitions of abuse and cybersquatting, which were cooked up with .uk registry Nominet and others and closely align to industry norms.

DSIT plans to define abuse in the same five categories as ICANN does — phishing, pharming, botnets, malware and vector spam (spam that is used to serve up the first four types of attack) — in its response to the consultation, published yesterday (pdf).

But it’s stronger on child sexual abuse material than ICANN. While registries and registrars have developed a “Framework to Address Abuse” that says they “should” take down domains publishing CSAM, ICANN itself has no contractual prohibitions on such content.

DSIT said it will require UK-related registries to have “adequate policies and procedures” to combat CSAM in their zones. The definition of CSAM follows existing UK law in being broader than elsewhere in the world, including artworks such as cartoons and manga where no real children are harmed.

DSIT said it will define cybersquatting as “the pre-emptive, bad faith registration of trade marks as domain names by third parties who do not possess rights in such names”. The definition omits the “and is being used in bad faith” terminology used in ICANN’s UDRP. DSIT’s definition includes typosquatting.

In response to the new document, Nominet tweeted:

DSIT said it will draft its regulations “over the coming months”.

Nominet to overhaul .uk registry, turn off some services

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2024, Domain Registries

Nominet has opened a public consultation on its plans to modernize the .uk domain registry, which will involve increased standardization around international norms and turning off some older services.

It’s an extensive consultation — 37 proposals and 92 questions spread over more than 50 pages — aimed mainly at the registrars that will have to update their systems to integrate with the new registry. But registrants will also be affected.

The plans would see changes to Nominet’s underlying registry platform that would alter how renewals, proxy registrations, grace periods and transfers between registrants and registrars are handled, and the retirement of the current Whois system, among many other items.

Nominet reckons its proposals will help it save money on ongoing maintenance and software licensing as well as eventually simplifying things for its member registrars.

The company currently runs two registry platforms in parallel: the old UK registry and the newer EPP registry, which is based on the latest technical standards and compliant with ICANN requirements.

It runs its gTLDs, such as .wales and .cymru, as well as its dozens of back-end clients, on the newer system. The plan is to shift .uk over to the newer RSP platform too.

The proposal also calls for Nominet to align with ICANN’s plans to stop requiring registrars to operate Whois services a year from now, replacing them with the newer RDAP standard, which provides the same functionality.

Other older, less-used services, such as the Domain Availability Checker, would either be retired or replaced with EPP-based equivalents.

There’s a lot to absorb in the consultation documents, but at first glance it strikes me that large international registrars that already integrate with dozens of registries probably don’t have much to worry about; smaller, .uk-focused registrars with fewer resources may show some resistance due to the amount of development work likely to be required.

But Nominet says that it is taking this into account with its timetable, saying: “If the changes go ahead, we will give considerable advance notice to Registrars to allow time for development activities”.

The consultation is open for the next three months, punctuated by five explanatory webinars.

Domain universe grows despite .com drag

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2023, Domain Registries

The number of registered domain names in the world grew by 2.7 million in the third quarter, despite market-leading .com shrinking, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

There were 359.3 million domains across all TLDs at the end of September, according to the DNIB. up from 356.6 million at the end of June.

Over the same period, .com shrunk by half a million names as Verisign faces challenges from exposure to erratic demand from China.

New gTLD volumes were up by 2.1 million names to end the quarter at 30.2 million. Judging by zone files, at least half of these new names seem to be cheap, low-quality regs in the likes of .top and .cfd.

Total ccTLD names were 138.1 million at the end of the quarter, up by a million. All of the top 10 ccTLDs grew or were flat, except .uk, which lost about a hundred thousand names.

Wright elected to Nominet board

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet members have selected Steve Wright to a non-executive directorship on the company’s board.

The .uk registry said today that his three-year term started at the company’s AGM yesterday.

Wright came very close to winning in the first round of voting, securing 723,027 votes. That was just shy of the threshold of 743,038 required to win. He picked up 79,264 in the second round to end up with a total of 802,291.

David Thornton was knocked out in the first round and Thomas Rickert was defeated in the second. Turnout was 13% of members.

Nominet members each have as many votes as they have .uk domains under management, capped to avoid capture by the largest registrars.

The election was somewhat controversial. Five candidates were initially nominated, but incumbent Phil Buckingham pulled out for mysterious reasons and regular Nominet antagonist Jim Davies was disqualified for missing a deadline on the screening process, which he denied doing.

Wright and Rickert debated during the London Domain Summit in August, and the consensus in the bar afterward was that you couldn’t really slide a cigarette paper between their platforms, which revolved around similar themes of transparency and communication.

Wright is a consultant and former owner of a hosting company.

This article was updated October 19 to correct Wright’s current job description.

Nominet adds handcuffs clause to proposed new Articles

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet wants to add a new clause to its foundational Articles of Association that would prevent it adventuring into non-domain businesses without telling its members.

The proposal follows the scandal surrounding its CyGlass security business, which the company invested about $23.5 million in before eventually selling for a dollar.

“The Board will inform the Membership in advance of any proposed significant change in scope, together with an explanation as to how this relates to the Company’s objects for the public benefit,” the new Article 2 reads.

While there’s nothing requiring member approval of diversification, notice would at least give members time to organize resistance if it looked like history repeating itself.

Nominet chair told members the proposed article “creates an important constitutional safeguard to ensure Nominet remains aligned with its Members in future.”

Members will vote on the proposed new Articles at the company’s AGM next month, but Nominet has set a massive 90% majority threshold for the changes to be approved.

Green said that the current board plans to live by the spirit of the proposed Article 2 even if the vote fails, but noted that there can be no guarantee future boards would also do so.

Rejected former director threatens to sue Nominet

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2023, Domain Policy

The person Nominet barred from standing in its non-executive director election this year says he was unfairly excluded and intends to sue.

Lawyer Jim Davies, who was a Nominet director over a decade ago and stood unsuccessfully last year, said on his blog that he has asked Nominet to suspend the election, slated for September.

“If they refuse, I will apply to court for an injunction,” he wrote.

Davies was one of five people nominated for the NED seat this year. Incumbent Phil Buckingham eventually pulled out of the race, and Nominet said Davies, who the company did not initially name, was denied candidacy for not completing a mandatory security screening, carried out by third-party consultant Reed, by the deadline.

“I have asked Nominet and Reed for disclosure of specific documents as a matter of urgency, in anticipation of making an application to court to obtain a declaration that I am a valid candidate in the 2023 NED election,” Davies wrote.

Nominet’s head of comms Will Guyatt has told members that there was a June 30 deadline to submit information for the screening, which he said Davies missed. He said Davies was reminded of the deadline June 28.

In a lengthy timeline, Davies says that he completed the screening application process June 28, and carried on talking to Reed about the screening as late as July 11, when he was told the screening had not found anything “adverse” to his candidacy.

Part of the problem seems to be that Reed wanted him to submit client invoices as part of the screening, and some of Davies’ clients don’t trust Nominet enough to reveal their relationship with him.

Guyatt told Nominet members that the board had agreed unanimously to exclude Davies’ bid on July 19 to be fair to all candidates.

It’s the second time in the last year that Davies has tried to get a Nominet election called off.

Last year, when he was a candidate, he started his WeightedVoting.uk campaign, which seeks to demonstrate that Nominet’s current voting system illegally breaks the company’s own rules. That election went ahead and was won by Kieren McMcarthy.

Davies was briefly a director of Nominet until 2009 when he quit during a lawsuit filed against him over his domain industry client base.

Nominet admits membership fees mistake

Nominet has told DI it made an honest mistake when it made claims about its historical membership fees, after a pressure campaign accused the .uk registry of “misleading” its members.

The company is currently holding a public consultation on sweeping revisions to its Articles of Association, but the WeightedVoting.uk campaign, led by lawyer Jim Davies, reckons that Nominet has been violating its current Articles for years.

WeightedVoting supporters believe Nominet has been unlawfully receiving millions of pounds of membership fees for the last 25 years. This week, Davies accused the company’s leadership of either being ignorant of Nominet’s own history or “deliberately misleading” members by claiming it “has always had a flat membership fee for all Members”.

Today, about 2,500 members pay a £500 joining fee and annual renewals of £100. Their voting rights are calculated based on how many domains under management they have, using a formula so complex even Nominet sometimes gets it wrong.

The system, while it caps the amount of influence any one member may have, means that the larger registrars such as GoDaddy and Tucows have more votes when it comes to things like electing directors.

Last year, Davies, with the backing of a KC and other members, claimed that this system was not envisaged under Nominet’s Articles of Association, which date back to 1996, and that collecting a flat membership fee was therefore illegal, which Nominet has denied.

WeightedVoting claims Nominet is instead supposed to have a tiered membership system where members get more votes by paying higher membership fees. An archived page from Nominet’s web site seems to support this, but Nominet chair Andy Green allegedly told members recently that this system was never actually implememnted.

“Tiered subscriptions were clearly intended by those who established Nominet and that is reflected in the Articles,” Davies wrote yesterday. “Those Articles have not been followed since 1997. Nominet is breaking the law by doing so. It also has no power to charge subscriptions at present”

Now Davies says members have found an old Usenet* post from 1996 in which a member of the fledgling registry explains how his company, pioneering dial-up ISP Demon Internet, had just paid the maximum £5,000 for 10 votes.

Presented with this new evidence, a Nominet spokesperson told DI:

Members pointed out that we made a mistake in a document supporting the consultation to update our articles of association, as we bring them in line with current practice.

We initially believed that tiered membership fees had never been implemented by Nominet. It has been our long-standing practice to charge a flat fee for all members regardless of their size. Having been made aware that some members paid more in the very early days – from incorporation in 1996 to 1997 – we are correcting the document. Our data retention policies mean that we do not have records of invoices from so long ago. This was an error, and not an attempt to mislead anybody.

We recognise our articles of association are complex and in need of updating, hence the very process to get members involved in this consultation.

Iain Mitchell KC, who wrote a legal opinion for WeightedVoting, reckons Nominet could be on the hook for £1.5 million if it is forced to refund fees, with statutes of limitations limiting liability to the last six years.

(*For the kids… Usenet is a decentralized system of text discussion groups that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Think Reddit, but made of glowing green text on monochrome Unix terminals like in The Matrix or something. It still exists, but the learning curve required to use it probably isn’t worth the effort.)

One in six .au domains is a 2LD

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2023, Domain Registries

The .au ccTLD had over 700,000 direct second-level registrations at the end of 2022, according to registry auDA.

In its annual report (pdf) published this week, auDA said it had over 716,000 2LD regs. The second level space was opened up in March last year with a six-month grandfathering period.

It had 4,160,209 domains overall at the end of December, so roughly one in six .au regs was a 2LD.

In the comparable .uk liberalization, which had a five-year grandfathering period, at its peak in 2019 roughly one in four names was a 2LD. Today, it’s more like one in 10.

Whether .au will follow the same trend remains to be seen.

Nominet blew six figures vanity-publishing ex-CEO’s book

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet spent £135,000 to publish an upcoming book by a CEO who has since been kicked out, to promote a business it has since divested, it has emerged.

Thoughts from the Big Chair: A Leader’s Guide to Digital Transformation, by Russell Haworth, is due to be published in April, after Nominet paid the hefty sum to publisher Forbes.

Haworth quit the company almost two years ago, just hours before he could be forced out in a member mutiny, but the publishing deal evidently pre-dates that chaotic period for the .uk registry by about a year.

Nominet chair Andy Green, who was installed months later as part of a broad institutional reform package, told members in late December that he was surprised to discover Haworth was going ahead with publication.

It was designed to help promote the company’s “Cyber business” in the US, but since that loss-making business has since been abandoned, the assets sold off for a dollar, the book currently has “no value to Nominet”, Green told members.

Judging by the Amazon blurb, it appears the focus of the book is now “digital leadership”, and one assumes it’s more about building the former CEO’s personal brand at Nominet’s expense.

On his LinkedIn page, Haworth said last month he decided to write the book during the Covid-19 pandemic and that it’s “written for senior execs and board members of meduim sized businesses who are looking to navigate their transformation journey, and what they should consider”.

Haworth is currently the UK CEO of Sweden-based Byggfakta Group, which makes software for the construction industry.

There’s no chance of getting the money back because there’s been no breach of contract, Green told members. Haworth owns all rights and liabilities to the book, so Nominet is not on the hook to buy “significant quantities” of it, he said.

Green added that he would be reluctant to approve such a deal had he been at the helm and was not aware of it until recently.

McCarthy wins Nominet director election

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2022, Domain Registries

Kieren McCarthy, the former reporter who has spent much of his career bashing .uk registry Nominet in the pages of The Register, has been elected to its board of directors following a sometimes fractious campaign.

He won despite placing second to lawyer Jim Davies in the first round of voting, which saw CentralNic lawyer Volker Greimann eliminated. The vast majority of Greimann’s votes transferred to McCarthy in the second round. The results can be found here (pdf).

Turnout was a miserable 15.1%, almost 10 percentage points lower than it was in last year’s non-executive director election.

McCarthy is executive director of the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, the non-profit set up by .xxx registry ICM to hack around ICANN’s rules and give the illusion of legitimacy in the 2003 “sponsored” gTLD application round.

As such, he’s paid indirectly by GoDaddy, ICM’s current owner, which can’t have hurt his prospects in the election but GoDaddy says it did not vote in the election. Under Nominet’s controversial voting system, larger registrars get more votes, capped at 3% of the total.

With McCarthy standing on a platform of increased transparency, some Nominet members had pointed out the irony that IFFOR hadn’t published any board minutes in several years. He also faced criticism for using Nominet’s logo, apparently without permission, in his election mailshots.

McCarthy replaces Anne Taylor, whose three-year term is up.