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Nominet “gaslighting” members over fees, candidate claims

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2022, Domain Registries

Nominet has been accused of “gaslighting” its members over the issue of whether its membership fees are lawful by one of its non-executive director candidates.

Jim Davies is one of four signatories of the latest missive from the WeightedVoting.uk campaign, which is trying to get Nominet to address both its voting system and the fees it charges members.

Following the news last week that lawyer Ian Mitchell KC, hired by the campaign, had concluded that Nominet’s Articles haven’t technically allowed it to charge membership fees for the last 25 years, the registry issued a statement saying its own legal advice disagreed.

“That advice identifies significant flaws in the [Mitchell] advice that has been published. We remain confident in the legality of Nominet’s long-standing voting and membership arrangements,” Nominet told us last week, while declining to provide that advice.

It seems the same statement was provided to Nominet members, though only WeightedVoting was provided the new opinion.

Now WeightedVoting has published Nominet’s opinion, written by Andrew Thornton KC, which concludes that the weighted voting system Nominet uses — in which bigger registrars get more votes — is “entirely lawful and enforceable”.

What Thornton’s opinion does not address is the membership fees problem, despite Nominet’s suggestion that it covers both issues.

Now Davies and his supporters have written to Nominet’s current non-executive directors, asking again for the company’s annual general meeting, still apparently due to go ahead on Thursday, to be delayed.

They call Nominet’s statement “manifestly false” and call for the NEDs to exercise their legal duties or face “personal liability”.

Davies is one of three candidates to fill a vacating NED seat at the AGM this week when the results of a recently concluded election are announced.

His rivals are former reporter Kieren McCarthy and CentralNic lawyer Volker Greimann.

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.

Last-minute bombshell in Nominet election — it may be ILLEGAL

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Nominet’s current non-executive director election may be illegal, according to a legal opinion commissioned by one of the candidates.

Candidate Jim Davies, along with fellow former director Angus Hanton, say barrister Iain Mitchell KC has said that elements of Nominet’s voting practices are “clearly unlawful”, and they’ve asked Nominet to scrap them.

If Nominet accepts the opinion, it could mean the election — which is going on right now — could become a one-member-one-vote affair rather than the current system where you get more votes based on how many .uk domains you manage.

Davies and the other signatories to a letter sent to Nominet believe the company’s extremely complex “weighted voting” system is illegal under the UK’s Companies Act. They write:

This is a very serious issue for Nominet, particularly as there is an AGM and Board Election happening soon. Based on counsel’s opinion, we believe the only lawful way to conduct that meeting (and future meetings) would be one member, one vote.

Should Nominet agree and change the system, it would mean that big registrars such as GoDaddy and Tucows would get the same number of votes — one — as individual Nominet members.

This would most likely advantage IP lawyer Davies and fellow candidate Kieren McCarthy, who is a reporter rather than a registrar, at the expense of third candidate Volker Greimann, who works for Key-Systems, the large registrar owned by CentralNic.

Davies, in echoes of the PublicBenefit.uk campaign that led to a boardroom bloodbath last year, has set up a web site at WeightedVoting.uk to encourage fellow members to read the opinion and sign the letter.

While confidence in the company has arguably improved under its new leadership, member hackles were raised recently with the admission that Nominet had spunked millions of dollars on a failed attempt to enter the security market.

Voting in the NED elections began on Monday and runs until the end of the month. The results will be announced October 5, the day before Nominet’s AGM.

UPDATE: A Nominet spokesperson reached out with the following statement:

We acknowledge the receipt of a legal opinion commissioned by one of our members. We believe that our long-standing election process and voting rights are lawful and are being applied in accordance with our founding documents. We believe they have served and continue to serve both Nominet and its members well. Therefore, the election and voting will continue as planned. We will consult with our legal advisers prior to responding to our member.