The central registry for .au domain names, auDA, recently released Draft Recommendations regarding the 2015 Names Policy Panel indicating that, after many years of consideration, auDA is now in favour of releasing the .au domain for direct registrations, following many other countries including New Zealand and the UK. This means that it is likely to ultimately be possible to register names such as name.au rather than (say) name.com.au. However, we are still a long way from practical implementation of direct .au registrations with a number of major features of direct registrations still to be determined, including appropriate protections for prior rights holders as part of the new launch, measures to prevent “de facto” second level domains being operated from .au domain names, and pricing.

One concern is that while formal implementation measures are yet to be determined, auDA’s current position is that rights holders can be protected by providing current .au domain name holders with a reservation period for, or first right of refusal on, the matching .au name. auDA’s position is that a sunrise period should not be offered. This is a serious concern. Sunrise periods usually accompanies a new domain name release and is the obvious means of enabling rights holders to take proactive steps to mitigate likely damage arising from the release of direct registrations in the .au domain, particularly as the reservation/first option approach does not accommodate the interests of trade mark owners who do not own a corresponding .au second level domain name (whether because they have registered an appropriate alternative eg a .com or because they have not have been able to do so as all relevant names may already have been registered – which is one of the main justifications for releasing .au registrations in the first place). Indeed, if only existing .au registrants are protected at the launch of the .au domain, in at least some cases the .au release may automatically perpetuate bad faith registrations since one market for .au registrations will be trade mark owners who have been unable to register a .au name because of cybersquatting activity in .au second level domains. These bad actors would be given automatic priority of rights on the proposed measures over the trade mark owner.

The Names Policy Panel is due to provide a report by the end of 2015 and auDA expects to announce the outcomes of that report in the first quarter of 2016.