Registration and use of domains at ccTLD registry

Registry

Which entity is responsible for registration of domain names in the country code top-level domain (ccTLD)?

Nominet UK, a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee established in 1996, is the entity responsible for administering the .uk ccTLD and the second-level domains (SLDs) within the .uk TLD, except as provided below.

The SLDs administered by Nominet UK are the following:

  • co.uk (intended for commercial entities and purposes);
  • ltd.uk (intended for private limited companies);
  • me.uk (intended for personal names);
  • net.uk (intended for internet service providers’ infrastructure);
  • org.uk (intended for not-for-profit entities); and
  • plc.uk (intended for public limited companies).

In addition, domain name registrations directly under the .uk TLD became available in June 2014 (see www.dotuklaunch.uk).

Nominet also administers the following SLDs but for restricted use:

  • nic.uk (intended for network use); and
  • sch.uk (intended for schools only).

The following SLDs within the .uk TLD are not administered by Nominet UK but by third-party registrars as trustees:

  • ac.uk (for higher and further education and research institutions);
  • gov.uk (for national, regional and local government bodies and agencies);
  • mod.uk and mil.uk (for military and related purposes);
  • nhs.uk (for National Health Service organisations); and
  • police.uk (for police forces).

Finally, Nominet is also the registry of the new generic top level domains (gTLDs) .wales and .cymru. However, the new .london and .scot gTLDs are administered by Dot London Domains Limited and the Dot Scot Registry, respectively.

Method

How are domain names registered?

.uk domain names are registered through a registrar and not through Nominet directly. A list of registrars offering .uk domain names is available on Nominet’s website.

By registering a domain name ending in .uk (with some very limited exceptions), the registrant enters into a contract of registration with Nominet and must abide by Nominet’s Terms and Conditions, including the now-consolidated (as from 1 October 2016) Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) Policy and DRS Procedure (the DRS Policy), as well as Nominet’s Rules of Registration and Use of Domain Names (the Rules). Nominet’s new Terms and Conditions came into effect on 1 March 2016 and the new Rules came into effect on 10 June 2014. Any person may register an SLD for a .uk domain (Rule 7).

Specific rules for each SLD

Each SLD has its own specific rules, as follows:

  • domain names registered in the .co.uk SLD are intended for commercial purposes (Rule 8) and .org.uk are intended for not-for-profit entities, such as charities, trades unions, political parties, community groups, educational councils and professional institutions (Rule 9). However, Nominet does not impose restrictions on the registration of third-level domains in either of these SLDs and the Rules explicitly provide that Nominet will not reject applications or take action against registrations that do not comply with the intended purpose of these SLDs (Rule 4.4);
  • registrants of .me.uk domain names must be, and must remain, natural persons (as opposed to legal entities), with certain exceptions in the case of a transfer of a domain name as a result of DRS or judicial proceedings or of a transitional measure (Rule 10);
  • all registrants in .ltd.uk and .plc.uk must be incorporated companies under section 714 of the United Kingdom Companies Act 1985 (or later equivalents). Third-level domain names in the .ltd.uk and .plc.uk SLDs must correspond to the company name as recorded in Companies House, and applicants must provide proof of the company’s incorporation (Rule 11.2.2); and
  • registrants in the .net.uk SLD are required to be internet service providers. The domain name registered must be identical or similar to the applicant’s name (Rule 12).

Reservation rights for .uk

As previously mentioned, domain name registrations directly under the .uk TLD became available on 10 June 2014 (eg, example.uk). Nominet will automatically reserve the third-level domain names of existing SLDs at the second level of the .uk TLD for five years, provided that the initial registration at the third level remains active. For instance, example.uk will be reserved for a period of five years to the registrant of example.co.uk. After the five-year period, the domain name will become available for registration on a first-come, first-served basis. Nominet has now delayed the expiry of the five-year period until 25 June 2019, and third parties will be able to apply for .uk registrations previously protected by the ‘reservation period’ on 1 July 2019. Given the above, existing domain name holders should consider registering the shorter .uk domain name before the five-year reservation period expires on 25 June 2019.

However, where the same string is registered to two or more people under different third levels (eg, one person is the registrant of example.co.uk and another example.org.uk), the registrant of the .co.uk domain name will be eligible for the same string directly under .uk, and if no .co.uk domain name has been registered then the .org.uk will be offered the .uk equivalent.

To prevent any ‘gaming’ of the system, this method will only apply to third-level domain names registered on or before 28 October 2013. Only third-level domain names registered after this date (but before 10 June 2014) under .co.uk will automatically be allocated the corresponding .uk domain name, and domains registered under non-.co.uk extensions will not be granted any rights. This is the case unless there is a ‘clash’ with a domain name registered on or before 28 October 2013, in which case the prior system will apply.

This means, for instance, that if example.co.uk was registered after 28 October 2013 but a corresponding .org.uk domain name was registered before the cut-off date, then the registrant of the .org.uk domain name will be allocated the string directly under .uk. After 10 June 2014, new registrations at the third level do not grant registrants an automatic right to register the same string directly under .uk.

Nominet has created an online ‘rights lookup’ tool that shows whether a domain name (whether it currently exists or not) will confer its registrant the right to the .uk equivalent (available at www.theukdomain.uk/do-i-have-uk-rights/).

Registration policy

Traditionally Nominet has had an open registration policy, accepting domain name registrations on a first-come, first-served basis without vetting applications (Rule 4.2). However, there are some restrictions applicable to domain names administered by Nominet.

Domain name registrations at the second or third level under the .uk TLD are restricted as follows (Rule 5):

  • domain names may only contain the following 37 characters or a combination thereof: the 26 unaccented Roman letters (namely, a-z); the 10 Western digits (0-9); and hyphens;
  • the first or last characters of a .uk domain name may not be a hyphen;
  • domain names may not contain characters with diacritics, such as accents, cedillas and ogoneks (ie, internationalised domain names);
  • domain names may not be more than 64 characters long in total, including the third and second-level domain and the TLD; and
  • characters corresponding to an existing SLD in .uk (ac, co, gov, ltd, me, mil, mod, net, nhs, nic, org, plc, police and sch) are not to be permitted (for policy reasons) as a third-level domain within co.uk, me.uk, org.uk and net.uk.

Proscribed domain names and criminal activity

In 2014 Nominet revised its domain name registration policy following an independent policy review led by former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald (2013). As a result, Nominet prohibits the registration of domain names that promote or incite serious sexual offences (condition 6.1.4 of Nominet’s Terms and Conditions). According to Nominet’s Terms and Conditions, Nominet will, in its sole discretion, determine whether a domain name appears, on the face of it, to indicate, comprise or promote a serious sexual offence and there is no reasonable or legitimate use for that domain name. In such cases, the proscribed domain name will be suspended and the registrant and registrar informed. Registrants will then have 30 days to appeal Nominet’s assessment, and any disagreement will be referred to an independent external body for review.

Nominet’s Terms and Conditions also expressly prohibit the use of any .uk domains to carry out criminal activity (condition 6.1.5). Accordingly, law enforcement agencies are able to notify Nominet that specific domain names are being used for criminal activity and Nominet will then work together with its registrars to suspend the domain names in question.

Duration

For how long is registration effective?

The registration duration of a .uk domain name may vary depending on the registrar used. A .uk domain name can be registered for between one and 10 years.

Cost

What is the cost of registration?

The cost for registration of .uk domain names varies broadly among registrars. The price includes the registration fee charged by Nominet and other charges for other services provided by the registrar. Registrars that are accredited by Nominet benefit from a discount on Nominet’s registration fees (available on Nominet’s website). The Nominet fee for non-accredited registrars is £80 plus VAT per domain name registration for two years.

Transfer

Are registered domain names transferable? If so, how? Can the use of a domain name be licensed?

A registrant of a .uk domain name may transfer a domain name to a third party by following the registrant transfer process, in accordance with condition 11.3 of Nominet’s Terms and Conditions. To initiate the registrant transfer process, the registrant must log in to his or her Nominet account and select the ‘Transfer Domain(s)’ service. This service costs £10 plus VAT, which can be paid by either the current or new registrant. Nominet-accredited registrars may also carry out the registrant transfer process on behalf of the registrant.

A registrant of a .uk domain name may also transfer a domain name from one registrar to another either by contacting the current registrar or through Nominet by logging into the registrant’s ‘Online Services’ account and selecting the ‘registrar change’ service. Nominet’s fees for this service amount to £10 plus VAT.

.uk domain names can also be transferred as a result of a Nominet DRS procedure or a court order.

A registrant may not transfer a .uk domain name registration pending proceedings under the DRS Policy or for a period of 10 days after their conclusion (unless the transfer is to the complainant as a result of a settlement reached between the parties and approved by Nominet); or during pending court or arbitration proceedings. In addition, a registrant may not, without the complainant’s consent, transfer the hosting of a .uk domain name to another registrar pending proceedings under the DRS Policy or for 10 days after its conclusion (paragraph 26 of the DRS Policy).

Nominet’s Terms and Conditions expressly provide that ‘a domain name is not an item of property and has no “owner”’ (condition 7.1). However, nothing prevents a registrant from licensing the use of a domain name to a third party during the course of the registration period, provided that such registration or use does not contravene Nominet’s Terms and Conditions and Rules of Registration and Use of Domain Names. Generally, the registration agreement for .uk domain names (between the registrar and the domain name registrant) will incorporate an ‘agency clause’ providing that in the event that the registrant intends to license use of a domain name, the registrant accepts that it will remain the registrant of record, will be responsible for maintaining accurate contact information and will be liable for harm caused by wrongful use of the domain name.

ccTLD versus gTLD registration

What are the differences, if any, with registration in the ccTLD as compared with a generic top-level domain (gTLD)?

Traditionally, Nominet has had an open registration policy for .co.uk and .org.uk in the same way as many generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as .com and .org. However, as explained previously, Nominet has recently reviewed its open registration policy and has implemented certain changes, particularly as regards screening and suspension of domain name registrations involving terms related to serious sexual offences or domain names used for unlawful purposes (ie, criminal activity), which is an element that will set it apart from many gTLDs and other ccTLDs.

Also, as described in question 1, a number of the SLDs have specific restrictions (eg, .me.uk and .ltd.uk).

Registrants’ privacy

Can the registrant use a privacy service to hide its contact information?

Following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, Nominet made several changes to its existing privacy policies on 22 May 2018. The most substantive changes were as follows:

  • the .uk WHOIS database will no longer display the registrant’s name or address, unless the registrant has given Nominet express permission to do so. All other data shown in the current .uk WHOIS will remain the same; and
  • the rules for registering an SLD will be aligned with those for registering a third-level domain, meaning that an address for service will no longer be required and PO boxes will be accepted as valid address types.

Such changes make it more difficult to ascertain the identity and contact details (ie, non-public data) of a domain name registrant. However, Nominet will make non-public data available to third parties such as law enforcement agencies and intellectual property investigators upon request, in accordance with its disclosure policy (as discussed in question 8).