If you're a UK entity or resident and you are the holder of a .eu domain name, then the European Commission has news for you. In a recent Notice the European Commission announced that, subject to any transitional arrangement, .eu domain names will no longer be available for UK residents and entities post-Brexit. Should this be the case, over 300,000 .eu domain names will potentially be affected.
European Commission's Notice to Stakeholders
The legal framework for the .eu Top Level Domain sets out that only EU undertakings, EU organisations and EU residents are eligible to register .eu domain names1. The Registry – EURid – has been given the power to revoke any domain name that is held by a party who does not meet these eligibility criteria2.
In its Notice, the European Commission also advised that UK undertakings and residents would fall into the category of non-eligible parties after Brexit. The Commission warned stakeholders of the following effects:
- UK undertakings and UK residents will no longer be able to register new .eu domain names post-Brexit;
- The Registry will be entitled to revoke .eu domain names registered in the name of UK undertakings and residents. The Registry may revoke a domain name of its own initiative and without any extrajudicial conflict settlement;
- It will no longer be possible to invoke UK rights, such as UK trademarks, against bad faith registrations of .eu domain names;
- Agreements between Registrars and registrants must be changed if they are currently governed by UK law or designate a UK court or dispute resolution body.
Will domain names actually be revoked and when?
The Commission's Notice has been met with severe criticism. It has been questioned whether revoking existing domains is in line with the human right to property, especially where revocation takes place without any (extra-)judicial proceedings. Many have also highlighted the internet's tradition of so-called "grandfathering rights", whereby existing domains are kept intact after a structural change. This was for instance the case for .su domains after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
This criticism may be a reason for the EU to reconsider its current strict stance. The EU and the UK are currently negotiating an agreement setting out the particulars of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. There is thus still a chance that the EU and the UK will agree on a different arrangement for .eu Top Level Domains.
However, the latest draft withdrawal agreement doesn't say anything about .eu domain names. If no arrangement is made in the end, then the effects set out in the Commission's Notice will become reality as of the UK's withdrawal from the EU on 30 March 2019.
What can you do to keep your .eu domain name safe?
Although it is not yet certain that all .eu domains in the hands of UK entities and residents will be revoked when Brexit takes place, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid the negative effects of a revocation:
- The simplest solution: transfer your .eu domain to an EU-subsidiary outside the UK before Brexit takes effect.
- If you don’t have an EU-subsidiary outside the UK, it may be worth setting up an alternate domain as soon as possible, and start redirecting traffic from your .eu domain to the new domain straight away. Even though redirection will no longer be possible if the .eu domain is revoked, starting now will ensure that search engines pick up on the redirect and your search engine optimization (SEO) will not be negatively affected. It will also allow time to adapt your marketing and for customers to adjust to the new domain.
One final tip: while some have advised switching your .eu domain to an EU-based proxy service, it must be noted that proxy services are currently not allowed under EURid's Domain Name Registration Policy.
1 Article 4(2)(b) of Regulation (EC) No 733/2002.
2 Article 20 of Regulation (EC) No 874/2004.