One of the many services that Onega offers clients is assistance with domain registrations and acquisitions. This can be a minefield but there is usually a common sense solution and balance in this; as to which are the appropriate domains for an organisation to own or register and to protect branding and reputation alongside trademarks etc.
We recently helped a client to buy a domain that matched the initials of their company name from a broker, to go alongside their other domains. In this case it was a four letter .co.uk domain that we helped to purchase.
This all went smoothly, transacting via undeveloped.com and the timeline on this was as below:
Negotiation - 7th Jan 2016 - Several offers and counter offers back and forth, thankfully managing to secure the domain in a small but happy spot where the offer was just affordable to our client and just acceptable to the seller, so all could proceed.
Purchase - 7th Jan 2016 - We paid for the domain directly so that things could move ahead and to seal the deal. Thus the .co.uk domain was now secured for our client's company. The purchase was for a .co.uk domain for which no .uk had been registered (so rights were still vested in the .co.uk domain for this).
Transfer - 27th Feb 2016 - This was the date that the domain came across to our client in the form of a transfer to their GoDaddy Domain Registration account, and from where we immediately updated the contact details to be correct for their company contacts, to ensure a valid Nominet registration. The delay was partly down to us as the broker process was a little different from some others in this case (we normally do a Nominet tag change to the ONEGA tag as we are a member and registrar / tag holder with Nominet); whereas in this case a GoDaddy account transfer was the process used which was fine and smooth when done.
So far so good.
Fast forward a few weeks. We then came to register the .UK domain as part of good management and to realise the new and trendy higher level domain registration for our client.
It is worth explaining here for anyone unaware, that as a holder of a .CO.UK domain, you have a 5 year 'sunrise' right to register an equivalent .UK domain. Thus if you have (in our case) onega.co.uk then you also have rights to onega.uk. Here at Onega, we primarily use our onega.net domain but hold the .uk domains for secondary purposes and domain protection alongside our UK registered trademark of 'Onega'. After the 5 years which starts from the .uk domain launch date to the 'fully open' period, then anyone can potentially register an equivalent .uk address. This 5 years started on 10th June 2014 so protection ends and open season begins at 10am on 10th June 2019. Thus we recommend that clients with an active .co.uk domain exercise their right and protect their .uk domain with a long registration now (the cost is trivial) . It's also good contemporary branding to do this and use the domain.
Back to our narrative... we found that when we came to register the domain for our client as per best practice, that now it transpired from the .UK Whois data that the .uk domain had been registered by the seller of the domain under their own details on the same day as the transfer finally occurred (17th Feb)... hmmmmm....
It was our understanding and is common practice that when the domain of the .co.uk was purchased, that this would include the rights to register the .UK address. We were a little disconcerted to say the least when we discovered this registration, as we'd consider the domain and related rights effectively owned from the point of agreement and payment - the transfer being a formal process in the completion as would occur in the land registry work related to conveyancing and sale of a house.
Next course of action was to read up on the rules and check our position. Nominet has a good Q&A on the .UK domain rules, which we consulted; we also checked the Terms and Conditions of the domain broker. The Undeveloped Ts&Cs did not contain anything mentioning related domain rights. Nominet's Q&A is well written although it did not have anything specific on this case, but it did remind us that .UK registrations should normally be available for the .co.uk owner (who was our client at the time of the seller's registration though not reflected in Whois yet), also that these registrations can be referred to the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service if there is a disagreement on a registration.
The majority of domain disputes are amicably settled but having a fair procedure for resolution as a formal path available is a good comfort should it ever be needed. Our next action at this point was to get in touch with the domain broker, through whom the purchase had been agreed, to raise the issue with them and also to contact Nominet DRS informally to ask about case history and precedent on this.
Nominet DRS were very helpful on our call and we learned that this issue has come up a small number of times already and is likely to come up again in the future as the .uk domains become more established. No cases of this type have yet to get to binding adjudication, but some have been through the DRS procedure which commences with mediation on the issue and thus far all have been settled at this stage. The outcome has so far been, in all cases that we are aware of where the complaint has been followed up in the DRS case, that the .uk domain has ended up being transferred to the complainant (who is normally the .co.uk rightsholder). Resolution at this stage avoids costs escalating for all parties in the process.
This was useful to be aware of and to better understand the position and case histories. At this time we heard back from the sales domain broker and they reasonably disclaimed involvement in a case not exactly related to the actual domain purchased and recommended that we contact the seller directly.
We did contact the seller with a professional, respectful while reasonably formal mail on the subject at hand - setting out the brief case and asking for an amicable agreement on this.
I'm delighted to be able to say that in this case, the seller called back within the hour and the domain has now been transferred to our client at no cost. The seller had apparently sought to register the domain to protect it from abuse by anyone else, though arguably that should not have been an issue as only the .co.uk owner can make the .uk registration. In any case, the situation has been resolved without further escalation. The seller was delightful to deal with and I'm happy that this was just a simple miscommunication issue rather than anything more.
What have we learned or been reminded of from this?
1) Don't make assumptions - in this case there was no discussion either way on the question of .uk domain rights in the negotiation process. It would have been better in retrospect if we had have explicitly said 'for the .co.uk domain in question and any rights vested in that registration' so that we made sure we were specifically reserving these rights.
2) Ideally domain brokers should be clear in their terms as to whether any rights vested in a domain are included in the sale or not. It would be fair and reasonable for a seller of a .co.uk domain to sell the .co.uk domain but reserve the rights and register in advance the .uk domain if they explicitly state that they reserve this right.
3) Most disputes are amicably dealt with and it is always best to try this route before looking at invoking a formal process.
4) The online reputations of Domain Sellers and Brokers are very important to them so as far as possible most will adhere to best practices.
If you need any help on domain matters please don't hesitate to Get In Touch and we'd be happy to discuss how we can help.
Thanks to Ryan Espanto for the circling sharks photo.