Nominet recently released an annual report that, on the one hand, shows a decrease in the number of suspensions of domain names containing banned words and on the other hand, an increase in the number of take downs due to criminal activity such as intellectual property infringement and fraud.  Nominet implemented its policy concerning offensive names in May 2014 and boasts of working closely with law enforcement agencies to tackle crime and abuse committed via the .UK name space.

The Nominet report entitled “Tackling online criminal activity” mentions that, out of a total of 10.6 million .UK domain name registrations, 3,889 were suspended due to criminal activity.  Only one of these suspensions was made on the basis of a breach of the offensive names policy, which bans words such as “rape”, “bestiality” and “incest” if the domains concerned “promote or incite serious sexual violence”.  Due to the potential for domain names such as <therapist.co.uk> and, famously, <scunthorpe.co.uk> to get caught in the net of automated checks, Nominet has all domain names flagged as potential infringements manually checked.

However, critics of the offensive words policy state that there are already provisions in place to deal with websites hosting illegal content and that the mere registration of a domain name comprising a word deemed to be offensive is a curtailment of free speech.  They also call into question the validity of a private company such as Nominet passing judgement on the acceptability or otherwise of individual words.  They argue that humour, nuance and intention all get lost when a domain name is evaluated without reference to its web content.

Over the past year, the Nominet report highlighted that, out of 2,407 domain names flagged by its automated systems, only one faced the chop after being deemed offensive.  By contrast, in the first year after the policy’s introduction, 11 domain names were suspended based on this policy, but these included historical registrations made prior to the implementation of the policy.  The report on which the policy was based was prepared by Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions and a trustee of the pro-free-speech Index on Censorship and followed a number of high-profile sexually-motivated murder cases and their coverage by the British press.

The report also shows that by far the largest number of suspensions came as a result of requests from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.  This category accounted for 3,610 of the suspensions and was followed most closely by 149 requests from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and 104 requests from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.  The report also notes that only 16 requests over the preceding 12 months did not result in suspension, which is good news for brand owners as it seems to demonstrate that Nominet is taking intellectually property infringement very seriously.

First published on Anchovy News