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)?

.au Domain Administration (auDA) is the policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space, which is the Australian ccTLD. The auDA was formed in 1999 and was endorsed by both the Australian government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

The auDA is responsible for developing and implementing domain name policy for the .au domain space, licensing second-level domain (2LD) registry operators, accrediting and licensing registrars, implementing consumer safeguards, facilitating the .au Dispute Resolution Policy (auDRP), managing the .au zone file and performing other functions to manage a secure and stable domain name system (www.auda.org.au/about-auda/).

In 2017, Afilias Australia Pty Ltd (Afilias) won a tender commissioned by the auDA to take over management of the .au Registry system and associated Domain Name System (DNS), a role that had been held by Ausregistry Pty Ltd, the original designer of the .au Registry system, since 2002.

Afilias, which began operations in 2001 and currently supports 13 other ccTLDs, launched its services for Australia on 1 July 2018. This was the biggest transition of domain names in history, including all 3.15 million .au domains and associated data, and was recognised by a Guinness World Record. Afilias is now the registry operator for all current open 2LDs, including:

  • com.au;
  • net.au;
  • asn.au;
  • org.au; and
  • id.au,

as well as the community geographic 2LDs for each Australian state and territory:

  • act.au;
  • nsw.au;
  • nt.au;
  • qld.au;
  • sa.au;
  • tas.au;
  • vic.au; and
  • wa.au,

and three closed domains (whose membership is managed directly with the auDA):

  • edu.au (for educational entities registered at a federal or state level);
  • gov.au (for federal, state and local government bodies); and
  • csiro.au (for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation only).
    1. .

As discussed further below, direct .au registrations are scheduled to be introduced in the second half of 2019 or in 2020.

Method

How are domain names registered?

.au domain names are not registered directly with the auDA, but rather with a variety of registrars accredited by the auDA. A list of such authorised registrars is available on the auDA website at www.auda.org.au/industry-information/registrars/.

Resellers also provide domain name registration services but are not themselves accredited registrars. They buy .au domain names and manage records through an accredited registrar, but do not have direct access to the .au registry (www.auda.org.au/industry-information/resellers/).

Registrants enter into a service agreement directly with the registrar (or reseller) which incorporates the auDA standard terms and conditions, as well as any additional terms and conditions prescribed by the registrar (or the registrar and the reseller).

Duration

For how long is registration effective?

Domain names are registered for a fixed period of two years, and must be renewed at the end of each two-year period.

Cost

What is the cost of registration?

Apart from a small domain name fee, the auDA does not set a fixed cost for registration of .au domain names. As a result, the cost of registration of .au domain names can vary widely depending on the registrar chosen, the popularity of the domain name in question, and the deal the customer is able to obtain.

Transfer

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

Transfers

Domain names are transferable from one registrant to another, which is usually a relatively simple process that can be undertaken by the current registrant, the proposed new registrant and the relevant registrar. However, it is a breach of the domain name eligibility and allocation policy rules for open 2LDs to register domain names solely for the purpose of transfer or resale. It is also important that the proposed new registrant satisfies the eligibility requirements for licensing a .au domain name (discussed further at question 6).

There is no auDA fee for transfers, so the cost will depend on the administrative fees set by the registrar, which can range from no charge up to AU$300 (https://auda.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/200132970-What-is-the-fee-for-a-registrant-transfer-).

Currently, once the transfer process has been completed, the new registrant will be issued with a new two-year licence for which they will be required to pay the full cost, and the old registrant will not be reimbursed for the remaining portion of their licence (www.auda.org.au/policies/index-of-published-policies/2011/2011-03/). However, following a recent review, the auDA has indicated that it may implement a policy allowing a domain name transferee to receive the benefit of any remaining licence period in the future. The auDA has noted that the revised approach would be consistent with international practice and ensures that only one fee is paid over the course of the two-year licence period. Any costs to registrars as a result of the transfer would be covered by the transfer fee (https://www.auda.org.au/assets/Policies/auDA-Policy-Review-Panel-Interim-Report-15-May-2015.pdf).

Licensing

The auDA does not currently prohibit third-party ‘subleasing’ arrangements, although a requirement not to sublease may be a specific condition of licence agreements with some registrars. However, as part of a recent policy review, the auDA identified the following potential consequences associated with the practice of subleasing domain names:

  • subleasing a domain name acquired under the close and substantial connection test (discussed further in question 6) raises the question of whether the registrant had a legitimate close and substantial connection to the domain name;
  • foreign nationals or entities may sublease a domain name in order to circumvent the requirement to have a connection with Australia (discussed further in question 6), or individuals or entities not otherwise eligible to register a domain name in a specific 2LD name space may similarly circumvent other registrant restrictions through subleasing; and
  • subleasing would result in the WHOIS results being inaccurate, as the actual user of the domain name (the sub-lessee) would become effectively anonymous, with the WHOIS results reflecting only the details of the registrant or sub-lessor. The accuracy of WHOIS data is important for consumer protection and law enforcement.

In light of the above considerations, the auDA has indicated that subleasing could be prohibited in the future, although it is not currently clear whether any future prohibition would include subleasing within related company groups or whether it would only apply to subleasing to unrelated third parties (https://www.auda.org.au/assets/Policies/auDA-Policy-Review-Panel-Interim-Report-15-May-2015.pdf).

ccTLD versus gTLD registration

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

Unlike gTLDs, there are limitations that apply to .au ccTLDs: in order to be eligible, registrants must satisfy specific requirements demonstrating their connection with Australia.

For example, the .com.au 2LD is for commercial purposes, so registrants must be one of the following:

  • an Australian registered company;
  • trading under a registered business name in Australia;
  • an Australian partnership or sole trader;
  • a foreign company licensed to trade in Australia;
  • the applicant for or owner of an Australian trademark;
  • an association incorporated in Australia; or
  • an Australian commercial statutory body.

Further, the domain name must be:

  • an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark; or
  • otherwise closely and substantially connected to the registrant.

The second category of connection provides some flexibility where registrants do not want to (or cannot) license a domain name directly related to their name. For .com.au and .net.au domain names, the auDA has provided the following examples of connections that would satisfy the ‘close and substantial connection’ test:

  • a product the registrant manufacturers or sells, or a service the registrant provides;
  • an event the registrant organises or sponsors;
  • an activity the registrant facilitates or teaches;
  • a venue the registrant operates; or
  • a profession the registrant’s employees practise.

(www.auda.org.au/policies/index-of-published-policies/2012/2012-04/; www.auda.org.au/policies/index-of-published-policies/2012/2012-05/).

Similar allocation rules apply to the other .au 2LDs. For example:

  • .org.au and .asn.au are aimed at non-commercial organisations and associations (such as political parties, sporting or community clubs, charities or other not-for-profit organisations);
  • .id.au is for individuals; and
  • the various community geographic domain names set out in question 1 are for addressable localities across Australia, and must be used for websites for use by the entire community.

As noted in question 1, there are also three closed .au domains for which eligibility is restricted, being:

  • .csiro.au, which is used by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation;
  • .gov.au, which is for government bodies; and
  • .edu.au, for educational institutions.
Registrants’ privacy

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

The auDA WHOIS policy was drafted with the aim of striking a balance between a registrant’s rights in relation to how their personal information is handled, the interests of law enforcement in accessing information for consumer protection and public interest purposes and the promotion of competitive and efficient business.

WHOIS data is collected by registrars at the time of registration, and includes a subset of the full registry data, including details such as the domain name, status, registrar and registrant. In line with Australian privacy laws, the street addresses, and telephone and facsimile numbers of registrants are not disclosed. A contact email address for the registrant is displayed, but this need not be a personal email address.

The auDA has implemented various checks to address user concerns about privacy and scams. Issues have arisen in the past when members of the domain name industry sent unsolicited renewal notices to registrants with whom they did not have a prior business relationship. To prevent the significant levels of customer confusion this caused, the dates of creation, renewal and expiry of domain names are no longer displayed, and are only available after applying to the auDA to obtain this information in respect of a specific domain name (www.auda.org.au/policies/index-of-published-policies/2014/2014-07/).