Under current regulations, UK individuals and businesses are entitled to register and use websites using the .eu domain. This right may disappear post-Brexit.
It is reported that over 300,000 .eu domain names are registered to, and used by, UK individuals and businesses. The European Commission has recently issued a notice outlining the potential consequences for these UK individuals and businesses following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The European Commission’s notice
On 28 March 2018, the European Commission issued a short 'notice to stakeholders' concerning the repercussions of Brexit on .eu domain names for UK-based registrants.
While the potential effects are subject to any transitional arrangement that may be contained in a possible withdrawal agreement (the current draft as at April 2018 is silent on domain names), under the current regulatory framework covering the .eu top level domains, following Brexit:
- UK-based registrants will no longer be eligible to register a .eu domain name or renew an existing .eu domain name. Further, it will not be possible to redirect traffic from an existing .eu domain name to a new one (which is at odds with prior practices of retaining, or ‘grandfathering’, domain names during transitional changes).
- Existing .eu domains registered by UK-based proprietors are liable to be revoked by the central .eu Registry (EURid) of its own initiative and without any recourse for appeal or dispute resolution.
- Further, and perhaps more worryingly from a potential domain-squatting perspective, it will no longer be possible to invoke UK registered and/or unregistered rights in seeking to challenge .eu domain names registered in ‘bad faith’.
- Existing registration agreements between accredited .eu registrars and .eu registrants governed by UK law (or which designate a UK court or dispute resolution body) will also need to be amended to take account of the changes.
As matters stand, pending the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and the commission, all EU primary and secondary law will cease to apply to the UK from 30 March 2019.
Is there anything you can do to protect your .eu domain name?
While it is hoped that steps will be put in place before the withdrawal date to safeguard the interests of UK-based .eu domain proprietors, businesses and individuals are advised to review their domain strategies in advance and put protective measures in place to minimise the potential effects.
Protective measures could include the following:
- Transferring all existing .eu domain names to a subsidiary business located within the territory of the EU. Anyone who lives in the EU as well as companies, organisations and businesses that are established in the union (e.g. have a branch office in a Member State) will be eligible to register and/or hold a .eu domain name.
- For those who are not able to rely on a transfer to EU subsidiaries, consider setting up a new domain name and redirecting traffic from the .eu domain to the new one. Putting appropriate migration strategies in place early will give you time to prepare the branding and marketing around the new domain name (and for your customers to get used to the change). It will also ensure that your business’ search engine optimisation (SEO) will not be affected negatively (for example by setting up a 301 redirect) by giving search engines time to adjust to the change.