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 include:

  • co.uk (intended for commercial entities and purposes);
  • .uk (a shorter domain also 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).

 

Nominet UK also administers the following SLDs meant 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);
  • police.uk (for police forces); and
  • parliament.uk (for the UK Parliament and the devolved national parliaments and assemblies).

 

Finally, Nominet UK is also the registry of the gTLDs .wales and .cymru. However, the .london and .scot gTLDs are administered by Dot London Domains Limited and the dotScot Registry, respectively.

Method

How are domain names registered?

.uk domain names are registered through a registrar and not through Nominet UK directly. A list of registrars offering .uk domain names is available on Nominet UK’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 UK and must abide by Nominet UK’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 UK’s Rules of Registration and Use of Domain Names (the Rules). Nominet UK’s new Terms and Conditions came into effect on 24 April 2020 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, namely:

  • 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 (eg, charities, trades unions, political parties, community groups, educational councils and professional institutions) (Rule 9); however, Nominet UK does not impose restrictions on the registration of third-level domains in either of these SLDs and the Rules explicitly provide that Nominet UK 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 the DRS or judicial proceedings or 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, and the domain name registered must be identical or similar to the applicant’s name (Rule 12).

 

Reservation rights for .uk

Domain name registrations directly under the .uk TLD became available on 10 June 2014 (eg, example.uk). Nominet UK had automatically reserved the third-level domain names of existing SLDs at the second level of the .uk TLD for five years (until 25 June 2019), provided that the initial registration at the third level remained active. For instance, example.uk was reserved for the registrant of example.co.uk. This ‘right of registration’ period has now ended, so the .uk domain is now available on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

Registration policy

Traditionally, Nominet UK 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 UK.

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 that start with the characters ‘xn—’ may not be registered since Nominet UK does not offer 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 UK 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 UK prohibits the registration of domain names that promote or incite serious sexual offences (condition 6.1.4 of Nominet UK’s Terms and Conditions). According to Nominet UK’s Terms and Conditions, Nominet UK will, at 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 these cases, the proscribed domain name will be suspended and the registrant and registrar informed. Registrants will then have 30 days to appeal Nominet UK’s assessment, and any disagreement will be referred to an independent external body for review.

Further, in December 2020, Nominet UK published its Criminal Practices Policy to clarify its existing approach to addressing criminal activity in .uk that has been in place since 2014. This policy underlines overarching principles such as public benefit, collaboration with UK law enforcement agencies, accountability, harm prevention and proportionality and alignment to UK law. This policy also clearly identifies UK enforcement law agencies with which Nominet UK collaborates.

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 UK and other charges for other services provided by the registrar. Registrars that are accredited by Nominet UK benefit from a discount on Nominet UK’s registration fees (available on Nominet UK’s website). The Nominet UK fee for non-accredited registrars is £80 plus value added tax 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, under condition 11.3 of Nominet UK’s Terms and Conditions. To initiate the registrant transfer process, the registrant must log in to his or her Nominet UK account and select the ‘Transfer Domain(s)’ service. This service costs £10 plus value added tax, which can be paid by either the current or new registrant. Nominet UK-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 UK by logging into the registrant’s ‘Online Services’ account and selecting the ‘Change Registrar’ service. Nominet UK’s fees for this service amount to £10 plus value added tax.

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

A registrant may not transfer a .uk domain name during pending registration proceedings under the DRS Policy or for 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 UK); or during pending court or arbitration proceedings. Also, 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 UK’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 registration period, provided that this registration or use does not contravene Nominet UK’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 if the registrant intends to license the 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 UK has had an open registration policy for co.uk and org.uk in the same way as many gTLDs, such as .com and .org. However, Nominet UK has recently reviewed its open registration policy and has implemented certain changes, particularly as regards the 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, several SLDs have specific restrictions (eg, me.uk and ltd.uk).

Registrants’ privacy

Is the registrant’s contact information freely available? Can the registrant use a privacy service to hide its contact information?

Following the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the WHOIS database does not show a registrant’s name and contact details unless they have given Nominet UK express consent to publish this information. Nominet UK will also now accept a PO Box as a valid service address for a domain name registrant.

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

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

1 March 2021.