Feeds

New UK domain rules save Internet's soul

Nominet remembers the concept of openness and free speech

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

New UK rules over domain name disputes, which came into effect on Monday, show that Internet regulators can, if they put their mind to it, be capable of making good decisions.

The changes to Nominet's domain resolution service (DRS) - which affect all domains ending .co.uk - are the first major overhaul since 1997 of the resolution process at the UK root registrar, and have taken into account past cases as well as respondents' views to a public consultation.

The most important changes are the introduction of independent judges, improved transparency and a rewording of the rules to step away from issues of confusion over domains and towards abusive registrations.

While many of the changes - including the addition of personal and geographical names into the system - appear to be a case of catch-up, the most important difference between Nominet's approach to domain resolution and that of ICANN-approved arbitrators such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and National Arbitration Forum (NAF) is one of philosophy. While they tend to view the Internet as little more than a corporate marketplace, Nominet has always made it plain that it supports free speech on the Internet.

Case By Case

Two other important differences between Nominet and other arbitrators are: that Nominet does not view previous decisions as forming a domain resolution case law. "No decisions carry a precedent," Nominet's main lawyer Emily Taylor told us.

The case law approach has led to an unfortunate increase in the number of poor or flawed judgments based on previous flawed judgments at other arbitrators. The system also adds an air of legitimacy of these new judgments.

On top of that, Nominet views its role as an arbitrator and not as a court of law. For this reason, it will act as intermediary for both parties and only step in when both sides have failed to reach an agreement. Only then does it charge an arbitration fee. The opposite is true for arbitrators following ICANN rules - pulled together under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

Let me be the Judge of that

In the introduction of independent judges and the decision to post all judgments on its Web site, Nominet is simply matching the transparency of other arbitrators. However, while the NAF in particular has been heavily criticised for continually using trademark lawyers, Nominet is to choose an initial selection of 30 judges from a range of professions, including IT directors and magistrates (over 700 applied for the job, which comes with a £750 per-case fee).

More importantly than that, it has gone with a "cab rank" system, meaning that the judge chosen for a particular case will simply be the next one in line. This is a vast improvement over other approaches, which often have a secretive and biased system for judge selection. A recent study showed that the judges working for the NAF are at least ten times more likely to be picked for a case if they regularly choose for the complainant.

In line with a general movement away from solely trademarks to incorporate personal names and geographical areas as legitimate claims to ownership of a domain, Nominet has included them under the new rules. However, while this has been widely seen as opening the floodgates to hundreds more corporate cases at other arbitrators, Nominet has a balancing clause.

"We have a specific provision that says if a domain is providing criticism or a tribute then that may come under fair use," Ms Taylor told us. "That is our free-speech carve-out." Basically, company X will never win companyXsucks.co.uk, and Pop Star will never get her mits on popstarfan.co.uk. "The idea is to support the free speech element of the Internet by not branding activities as being in 'bad faith'," Nominet's main lawyer Emily Taylor told us. "Bad faith" is one of the three damning tests for UDRP resolution.

The new rules - we have been written in plain English, we are assured, and posted on Nominet's site - will also provide individuals ignorant of domain dispute resolution enough information to help them decide how to tackle the problem if a company approaches them demanding a particular domain.

But what about fsa.co.uk?
Which brings us to a very recent case in which we believe Nominet made the wrong decision. Last Friday - just before the new rules came into effect - Nominet ruled in favour of the FSA over Findlay Steele Associates for the domain fsa.co.uk.

The decision was made over the issue of confusion and was clearly nonsensical. Ms Taylor refused to discuss any cases in particular but did remark that under the old rules "the demand for confusion [between the domain in question and a company's trademark] may hit people that are co-existing and using other domains on the Net".

Under the new rules, it seems unlikely that the decision over fsa.co.uk would go the same way. The case is still under review following an appeal by Findlay Steele but that appeal will be run under the old rules Elaine Findlay told us. The company looks certain to request its case is heard under the new rules.

That case aside, we find it refreshing that an Internet organisation has managed to retain some of the initial revolutionary fervour that made the Internet possible. Perhaps ICANN should look towards the UK when it finally allows UDRP to be debated. ®

Related Link

Nominet's domain resolution service

Related Stories

Nominet rules against Findlay Steele for FSA.co.uk
Software firm takes on mighty financial watchdog
Why ICANN's domain dispute rules are flawed: Part I
Why ICANN's domain dispute rules are flawed: Part II

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.