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Net Registrar to appeal

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The second-level domain .uk.co through which domain company Net Registrar sold alternative Web addresses to UK businesses has been told by the High Court of Colombia that it has no continued rights on the domain.

But Net Registrar managing director Robert Fox has told us he plans to appeal against the "bizarre" decision and win back his business.

In a decision made on Monday but not released until yesterday, the Colombian High Court refused to grant Net Registrar an injunction against the current owner of the top-level .co domain - the University of the Andes in Bogota - after the university unexpectedly shut it down on Monday.

In the decision, according to Mr Fox, the judge ruled that there was "no real damage done" by the university's actions and that "any damage done could easily be repaired". This is patently not true since none of the 8,000 businesses that have paid Net Registrar £15 for a two-year domain are able to view their site or receive any email from it.

"We can only say that we are not in possession of the full facts behind the matter," Net Registrar commented in an official statement to its customers.

However Net Registrar has accepted that the university was within its rights to terminate their contract having given them two months notice. What it cannot understand is why.

Mr Fox revealed to us the details of his contract with the university, in which the univerity received a percentage of each domain sold. This percentage increased over time to a staggering 50 per cent by December 2002, he told us.

On 12 December 2002, the university officially informed Net Registrar it planned to terminate the contract. Two days later, it said it would draw up a new contract - this time under English rather than Colombian law.

On 18 December, a new contract arrived that Net Registrar was unable to sign. According to Mr Fox, the new contract included several clauses that would be suicidal for him to put his name to.

One was that the university would have the right to turn off the domain zone supplying all Net Registrar's customers at any time. A second insisted that Net Registrar indemnify the university for any claims that would result from this action. And a third one put a gagging order on Net Registrar that would make it unable to talk about or discuss any element of the new contract.

Furious, Mr Fox contacted the university who persuaded him the contract was up for negotiation. However, he told us, as the deadline for termination drew near it was clear that the university would not budge from the unsignable contract.

Then, on Monday 17 February, the university turned off the entire .uk.co domain without notice. Mr Fox says he has "no idea" why the university followed such a "draconian" route, insisting that the business relationship between the two had always been cordial.

What further complicates matters is that the university has been forced by the Colombian government to hand over control of the domain to it by December 2003 after the university's attempt to sell it off for £20 million plus a cut of the profits infuriated many Colombians and sparked several lawsuits.

Asked if he felt the university was attempting to steal his business from under his nose, Mr Fox was unsure. The university is fully capable of putting all the .uk.co domains online from its own servers in an instant, he explained, and making everybody (except himself) happy.

What is likely is that the university (and the Colombian government) are concerned about becoming liable for lost business from those companies - including Amazon and Priceline - that have seen their websites disappear.

Mr Fox appreciates that since he sold domains for a two-year period yet is unable to provide that service, he may be caught up in legal wrangles himself, although he says he believes his terms and conditions cover such an eventuality. Although, he adds, he really doesn't want to start throwing them back at angry customers.

In its statement to customers, Net Registrar revealed it had negotiated not only with the London solicitors hired by the university but also with the university direct, the Colombian Ministry of Communications (the forthcoming new owner of .co) and ICANN - but all were unwilling to intervene.

With no specific dates for hearings or any certainty that Net Registrar will win the domain back, it has instead advised its customers to buy domains elsewhere and set up their websites in another area of the Internet. ®

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