The Brexit deal agreed in principle in November 2018 has been voted down by a substantial margin in the UK Parliament and so, at the time of writing, a “no deal” Brexit is a very real possibility.
This means that UK-based owners of .eu domain names face a problem. Amidst all the other Brexit-related noise, the impact of a no-deal Brexit on .eu registrants based in the UK has not attracted much publicity. But if you hold one of the 300,000 or so that are in the name of UK entities, you could find your rights in your domain revoked when the UK leaves the EU.
In a Notice issued last year the European Commission highlighted the legal consequences of the UK becoming a third country on 29 March 2019 without a deal.
No right to register or renew
The European law regulating the .eu Top Level Domain restricts eligibility for registering .eu domain names to organisations established in the EU and EU residents. Registration and renewal will no longer be available to UK-based businesses or individuals.
Accredited .eu registrars will be barred from processing any request for such registrations or renewals.
Registered domain names could be revoked
A registrant who already possesses an.eu domain name but is no longer eligible can have their domain name revoked at the registry's own initiative and with no right of appeal.
UK trade mark rights can no longer be used to revoke abusive registration
Following exit day, any domains that are revoked could be targeted by cyber-squatters taking advantage of the previous registrant's EU presence. Currently, those with rights to trade marks, geographical indications, trade names etc can protect themselves against abusive domain name registrations using procedures to have them revoked, but these will no longer be available on the basis of UK-only rights.
Under the practice of “grandfathering” of rights, existing rights are kept intact even after any structural change. This approach is widely regarded as best practice, with grandfathering being the usual solution applied to top level domains which have been officially removed from the internet. For example, grandfathering was applied to .su extensions for the former Soviet Union until the .ru domain name became popular. And UK registration body Nominet allowed owners of .co.uk domains the first right to register the new .uk domains. There is no indication that this will be available to UK-based .eu holders in the event of no-deal.
No transition period
A transition period during which domain name registrants could continue to use their domain names while they move onto new arrangements would of course be valuable. However, it seems that an abrupt change will be implemented with .eu registry manager EURid indicating that the revocation process will be immediate.
What to do next?
Given the uncertainty about what the future holds, UK holders of .eu domain names should consider acting now to protect their position. For UK-only registrants running their businesses from .eu domains we recommend setting up an alternative domain as soon as possible and redirecting traffic. The redirection can be used pending revocation to facilitate customer transition to the new web address. Registrants with an EU27 or EEA subsidiary should consider transferring the registration across before Brexit takes effect.
Richard Plaistowe and Lottie Hartescu