Who could have predicted that 2019 would be the year of a widely-reported dispute over a Yorkshire saying, in a David and Goliath battle for the digital era? A complaint lodged by behemoth tech brands was thrown out in favour of the ‘small fry’, in recognition of the much-used Northern expression, ‘ee by gum’. But that’s the endless intrigue of Nominet’s award-winning Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) through which we – with support from a team of independent Experts – help to find common ground and keep .UK domain name disputes out of the courts, providing an efficient process for all.
The DRS 2019 annual report has just been released and the data shows us that 801 domains were the subject of disputes in the past 12 months. This may sound a lot, but that figure represents a mere 0.007% of all the .UK domain names currently under management at Nominet. There were quite a few brands you may recognise using the service during 2019 – such as Facebook, Pret a Manger, WhatsApp and Tyrells Crisps – but also a few you may not, such as the Taunton Angling Association.
The big brands I mentioned in my opener were eBay and Gumtree, who lodged a complaint against the domain name ebuygumm.co.uk, upon which a retail site was being run. Wonderfully, the DRS Expert who decided the case weighed in on the side of our Northern registrant, as ‘ee by gum’ is a indeed Yorkshire expression and the domain name bore only a faint resemblance to the sites of eBay and Gumtree. It seemed unlikely that internet searchers would be confused.
Our Experts only step up to make the decision, such as in this case, when mediation is unable to find a resolution. This initial process is handled by one of our experienced, in-house mediators (meet them on our blog) who try to work through the process with both parties and identify some common ground. In 2019, 90 cases were resolved in mediation. The unresolved cases are given the option to seek the binding decision of an Expert, of which we have 47 men and women (external to Nominet) poised to help, all bringing experience in settling disputes of this nature. Nine new Experts joined us last year, and you can find out more about where they come from and why they wanted to be a part of the DRS in their Q&As on our blog.
It’s worth noting that, despite the growth of the registry over the past decade, the proportion of domains being disputed has remained stable right through to 2019. The consistency in this percentage is particularly notable in a year which some predicted would result in an increase in disputes due to the end of our ‘Right of Registration’ period for second level domains.
In June 2019, Nominet reached the end of the five-year ‘RoR’ period during which registrants with domain names registered at the third level (example.co.uk or example.org.uk) had the right to register the second level equivalent (example.uk) before we opened this level completely up to the wider public. After the remaining, unregistered second level domains dropped on 25 June, many of these were registered. Whilst the vast majority of these registrations were legitimate, we did see a temporary rise in the number of disputes in July and August, although not as many cases as some feared and the number of disputes has since quickly reverted back to more usual levels. One example was Groupon.uk, which was seized upon within 25 seconds of being released. Also, Balmain.uk was registered within 30 seconds, but handed over to the renowned Paris fashion house Pierre Balmain when a complaint was filed. Our fair, transparent and due process was completed, with no long-term harm done.
This is one of the many reasons our DRS remains a popular option for the very small minority of registrations in need of dispute resolution. We can also offer a speedy process, with disputes taking on average 55 days from being filed to being closed, and a serious cost-saving compared to taking a case through the courts. If we assume that each court case costs around £15,000, the DRS saved around £6.1 million in 2019, and over £185 million since the service was established.
As we move towards our two decade milestone for the DRS, we expect more of the same – which is to say, unpredictability. It is bound to be another year of varied, diverse and at-times eye-opening disputes (and justifications) from large firms and small, from all over the world (complaints came from 26 different countries in 2019). There is never a dull day in domain name disputes, but that’s why our mediators and Experts are so engaged with the process. For Nominet, as a responsible registry, providing this service continues to be a source of pride and is one of the many ways we work to keep the .UK namespace an equitable place to be.