Imagine the scene in the early hours of Friday 24th June. The votes from the referendum as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union have been counted and the No’s have won. Not only does that throw the political future of the Prime Minister into question, but also opens up a whole number of debates about what happens next. One aspect I would imagine few organisations have considered is what happens to their dotEU domain name registrations once we exit stage right in Brussels.
The dotEU domain name was launched way back in December 2005 and today has nearly 4 million domain names registered, making it the tenth most registered Top Level Domain in the world today. DotEU registrations can be made by any natural person, company or organisation residing in or established in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. So if we leave the European Union, every domain name registrant based in the United Kingdom will essentially not be eligible to hold their names anymore. That’s over 311,000 domain names that could be at risk.
Most major brand holders will have protected their trademarks and key terms under the dotEU domain name so it is unclear exactly what will happen should the No vote happen. It is possible today to register a dotEU if you are not within the EU but a local presence service is required, with many companies offering this at around £50 annually. For many firms who simply registered the name a decade ago and have done little to add value to it that may be a cost too far and consequently we could see a number of domain names simply being deleted or not renewed. In turn that could lead to a number of cybersquatters rubbing their hands at potentially picking up dotEU domain names and infringing on intellectual property of brand holders.
Last year we had a similar situation with the Scottish Independence Referendum, where a “Yes” vote would have essentially invalidated every Scottish business and consumer’s right to own a dotUK domain name without any local presence. The “No” voters won that vote and current polls suggest this vote will be as tight with just 2 percentage points splitting the camps at the time of writing.
Whilst the future of brand holders dotEU domain names may not be top of the agenda for businesses, it is something that will need to be considered should the decision be made by the British people to leave the European Union.