Changes coming to the .au domain space

Domain names are a valuable asset in any business. Customers now expect a business to have an online presence, and a Top Level Domain (such as <.au>) can provide legitimacy and build trust.

.au Domain Administration Ltd (auDA) is the entity responsible for managing the <.au> domain space.

On 12 April 2021, auDA will implement a new set of rules relating to the <.au> domain space. Some of these changes are discussed further below.

Trade marks

A registrant must be able to demonstrate an “Australian presence” in order to apply for a license to use a <.au> domain name.

Previously, a foreign entity could rely on an Australian registered (or pending) trade mark in order to demonstrate an “Australian presence”. However, the rules have now been tightened, so that a foreign entity can only apply for a domain that is an “exact match” of the registered trade mark.

This makes it more difficult for foreign entities to apply for a wide range of domain names within the <.au> space. We expect to see a slew of new trade mark applications coming from foreign entities in the next few months to help combat this change.

Sub-licensing

The new auDA rules now expressly prohibit a registrant from renting, leasing or sub-licensing its <.au> domain to a third party.

However, a registrant may sub-licence its <.au> domain to a related corporate entity, so long as that entity meets the “Australian presence” test.

If you currently have a sub-licence arrangement in place, we recommend taking steps to investigate whether that arrangement is permissible under the new rules.

Contractual capacity

The new auDA rules now expressly require a registrant to have contractual capacity in order to apply for, and maintain, a <.au> domain licence.

Therefore, should a corporation become deregistered, the registrant will no longer have contractual capacity to hold its <.au> domains. If the registrant is a natural person,  then contractual capacity will expire upon their death.

Warranties

When registering a new <.au> domain, the applicant must now warrant “that the [domain] name is not deceptively similar to the name of a namespace in the .au ccTLD”.

This new warranty demonstrates auDA’s commitment to ensuring that the <.au> domain space is not used to infringe on IP or misappropriate another’s goodwill and reputation.

Lavan comment

Although many of these changes are relatively minor, failure to comply may jeopardise your domain licences. Further, if the domain names you want are currently taken, the new rules may provide an opportunity to challenge the current registrant’s eligibility.

If you require advice on what these changes mean for you, do not hesitate to contact Iain Freeman or Andrew Sutton.