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Lawyers attack Nominet plan for domain name disputes

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The registry for .uk domain names has proposed a change in the way that name disputes are handled, but the proposed fast-track system faces criticism for not being radical enough.

Nominet is consulting on a plan to streamline the dispute resolution process so that unopposed disputes are automatically resolved in favour of the party claiming a right to the domain name. This is designed to help legitimate rights holders to reclaim domain names held by cybersquatters, who rarely defend against such claims.

But while the new plan could save someone trying to claim a name £550, it will not save them the more significant expense of preparing a full case, with all the management time and legal bills that is likely to involve.

The move is designed to help brand holders to cope with the rocketing problems of cybersquatters and domainers who register thousands of domains at a time and generally do not oppose attempts by rights holders to take the domain names back.

In addition to management time, Nominet's process costs £750 – and significantly more if a brand holder instructs a law firm to prepare the claim. Disputes expert David Barker of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the process can be arduous.

"The process is a good thing because it is quicker than a court and is inexpensive by comparison," said Barker. "The problem is that you still have to fill out a quite substantial document setting out your rights and explaining that the other party doesn't have rights. In general it is advisable to get a lawyer's help to do it."

Domain name squatters sometimes register hundreds or thousands of names at a time which are similar to business trade marks and earn money from advertising displayed to visitors. When .uk names are involved, the practice gives grounds for a complaint under Nominet's Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) policy.

Cybersquatters typically do not respond to challenges made under the Nominet Policy because it is not economic to do so. There is no deterrent because they do not pay any damages if they lose a dispute. However, few businesses can afford the time, energy or fees to claim all of the names to which they are entitled.

Nominet's new proposal is only a partial solution to these problems, said Barker. It allows a claim to be lodged for £10 and, if it is unopposed, the name will transfer for a further £200 rather than the £750 fee payable if the claim has to be ruled on by an expert.

Crucially, though, the initial £10 claim must be accompanied by a full application setting out the claimant's case. Then, if the claim is opposed, whatever documents you originally send are used in the full dispute resolution process.

"The Nominet DRS is supposed to be relatively layman friendly, but of course quite a few parties in DRS disputes are represented," a Nominet spokesman told OUT-LAW. "But we are not actually proposing that you don't have to present a case initially – you'd still have to file your complaint in full including your arguments and evidence as to Rights and Abusive Registration.

"Provided a defence in response is filed you'd then proceed as usual through our mediation and ultimately expert decision stages," said the spokesman.

If there is no defence, the details of a claim are never read or considered; but most claimants will not risk making an abridged claim, according to Barker.

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