In a pace that even snails would outrun, auDA has announced the next steps in their “public consultation for policy reform” that includes allowing direct registrations, or registrations at the second level. Following the Names Policy Panel recommendations in December 2015 and accepted by the board in April 2016, auDA have announced yet another round of consultations.
It follows auDA, the policy and regulatory body for the .au (Australia) country code top level domain (ccTLD), having been beset by scandals in recent years since the current leadership took over.
In what will be a contentious move among many, the Panel has recommended a ban on registering domain names for the purpose of resale or monetisation, or domain investing/domaining. Difficult to ban, the board introduced a policy in 2006, updated in 2008 and 2012, that sought to legitimise registering domain names for the purpose of resale or monetising through advertising. Whether one agrees domaining is good or bad, the policy has been successful and domaining has been managed under .au.
And why make the change? The largest top level domain in the world operates under free market principles which allows buying and selling domains freely, and they have 139 million domain names registered. And dozens of ccTLDs, including currently .au, do so as well. auDA, under previous leadership, themselves have profited enormously from the sale of generic domain names back in 2002.
There are also questions to be asked of dropcatching as well should the change regarding domaining take place. There are currently 2 auDA-approved dropcatchers who make far more windfall profits each day than any domain investor ever would. And one of these dropcatchers (Netfleet) is 50% owned by the ARQ Group (formerly MelbourneIT). The current CTO of ARQ is Brett Fenton, and he is an active member of auDA’s Policy Review Panel.
As one person linked to domaining in .au told Domain Pulse, “In the opinion of many, auDA is going to find it very hard to stuff the genie back into the bottle.”
On the issue of second level registrations, an issue that .au has been considering on and off for well over a decade and was finally recommended by the Names Policy Panel in their report to the Board in 2015, the Panel recommendations do nothing other than allow individuals the right to register in a desirable space (currently individuals can only register domain names under the sadly unloved .id.au). The Panel, like the Names Policy Panel recommendations, hasn’t sought to differentiate direct/second level registrations from third level registrations. There are also potential conflicts foreseen in around 60,000 domain names where the same string is registered across multiple 2LDs with the report recommendations including registrants resolve among themselves who should be entitled to the domain name, and until they do, no individual or business would be entitled to the domain.
Under the new recommendations if accepted, the eligibility rules would be amended to read “a registrant is prohibited from registering any open 2LD domain name for the primary purpose of (a) resale, (b) transfer to another entity, or (c) warehousing”.” Additionally, there would be no grandfathering of existing registrations with registrants only allowed to keep their domains that fall afoul of the new rules until the end of the current registration cycle.
The Panel also made recommendations on an Australian presence requirement for domain names registered in .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au, .id.au (existing 2LDs where businesses are able to register domain names) and (in future) .au. The Panel recommended that for all domain names registered in .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au, .id.au and .au, the registrant must be a legal person with an Australian presence.
Trademark holder are also addressed where under .com.au and .net.au foreign registrants are able to satisfy eligibility requirements if the registrant owns an Australian registered trade mark, or is the applicant for an Australian trade mark. The Panel recommended applicants “for an Australian trade mark registration, or the owner of an Australian trade mark registration, should only be allowed to register a domain name that is an exact match to their Australian trade mark application or registration (if the trade mark application or registration is the sole basis for their meeting of the Australian presence requirement).”
Another change proposed by the panel is regarding domain name transfers. This means, as explained “if a domain name licence is for five years, and the registrant transfers the domain name licence to another registrant after one year, the new registrant will have the benefit of the remaining four years of the licence period. This approach is consistent with international practice and ensures that only one fee is paid for the duration of the licence period.”
There are also recommendations that deal with the suspension and cancellation of domain names, retaining the Prohibited Misspellings List and Reserved List as well as reserving a handful of terms relating government, parliament, the courts, police and military for possible future second level domains.
Disclosure: The writer served on the auDA Board from 2005 to 2007, participated in the 3 most recent Names Policy Panels, was a consultant to auDA from 2002 to 2016 and is currently a client of Neustar and a number of other registries and registrars.