Press cover on the result of the .UK consultation conceals more than it reveals

The BBC news story about the shelving of the proposals  put forward by Nominet for consultation is accurate as far as it goes but misleads rather than informs those outside the trade mark community (including registrants) which provided 90% of the responses and had, in some cases, very different views to the business and consumer groups which, between them, accounted for only 5%. Even Caroline Baldwin’s piece for Computer Weekly misses the meat of the story. But that is not surprising because it is hidden away on pages 39 and 40 of the Summary of Reponses.

All of the business and consumer groups and those registrants whose businesses are based in the UK believe that .UK (whether long or short) should mean the operation is based in the UK and/or governed by UK law. About half the registrars and those registrants whose businesses are based outside the UK believe .UK should also be available to those, wherever based, who wish to sell to the UK.

Almost all respondents believed that security and verification should be improved and agreed with at least some of the proposals, nearly half with all of them, but most had severe reservations with, although they differed as to which. Only 10% wanted no change.

That is my summary of the 90 page Nominet summary which goes into great detail on technical issues of  interest to registrars, registrants and Internet enthusiasts. Nominet has some “interesting” feedback for when it tries to rework the proposals in line with the feedback. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

The news story should therfore be that the introverted community which runs the Internet addressing systems is seriously out of step with the rest of society. It therefore risks being friendless and vulnerable when law enforcement gets the backing of politicians to take effective action, whether nationally or internationally, via ICANN or via the ITU, regardless of their protestations. I hope that sufficient of them recognise the danger and will work together with those in business and consumer groups who are serious about rebuilding confidence in the on-line world to help ensure the actions are not actually counter-productive when they come.     

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I must take issue with you on the grounds that your article "misleads rather than informs".

".... the trade mark community (including registrants) which provided 90% of the responses " is simply incorrect.

We quote from page 6 of Nominets Direct.UK Consultation Summary of Feedback.

"Based on the total number of responses received through the various channels including meetings and telephone calls, approximately half of all stakeholder respondents were classified as small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees. Large companies (those with more than 250 employees) accounted for less than ten percent of responses and more than a third of stakeholders indicated that they were responding in an individual capacity. The consultation also elicited responses from a number of public bodies including Government departments, law enforcement, and regulators. Representatives from civil society groups and academia were also represented comprising more than 5% of respondents. A small number of respondents selected ‘Other,’ indicating their area of work to be outside the specific categories outlined in the consultation."

We cannot equate these two interpretations of the responses.

Whilst we may disagree with Nominet on occasion we do in this instance accept their analysis. Perhaps you could provide the source for your own?

Incidentally we own a trademark and are a small business but have never described ourselves as a member of the trade mark community. We do not recognise this classification.

Page 9 of the summary shows that 91% of respondents hold a domain name in one of the existing .UK second levels. If nearly 20% of the responses came from those in the registration supply chain, then around 70% came from registrants with .UK domain names (which I included in the trade mark community). It was also said that 5% came from government agencies and consumer groups, most of whom would also have .UK domain names. These were, however, said to collectively share strong views on the need for .UK to mean subject to UK law. Hnece my comments.

I'm unconvinced.

If I understand your argument 70% of your 90% are .uk domain name registrants who you in your definition include in the "trade mark community" solely for that reason.

There are 10 million registrants on Nominet's register so presumably you would classify a majority of those in this "community".

A majority of the registrants are individuals and it is comparatively unusual for individuals to hold trade marks so could they be classified within this community?

Following a Freedom of Information request at the end of last year the IPO informed us "There are currently 456,152 registered trade marks, of which 436,373 are some kind of word mark".

Even if every one of those was also a registrant for a domain name it would, on my calculator, only represent some 4.5%.

In the wider scheme of things we would argue that the news story is the inadequacy of the consultation process which failed to engage a significant number of Nominet's direct (10 million registrants) and wider (43 million internet users)stakeholder community.

A total of only 1,000 approx responded with only 99 (of whom I was 1) representatives attending the 9 meetings offered of which one was cancelled!

I would have also thought it unusual for an individual to have a .uk domain name. I therefore made the assumption that those who do either trade on-line or work for organisations which do, but which had not agreed a corporate submission.

I agree your point regarding the small number of submissions. This does, however, lead to the question of how widely the consumer and other public interest groups consulted before they did there submissions. I organised the response for the Conservative Technology Forum. This was peer reviewed by about forty individuals, including some well-known electronic identity, information security and privacy "experts" as well as politicians. They split on most of technical issues - so these were left out. They were, however, unanimous that .UK should mean "subject to UK law". Thre was also a strong view that a registrar should have responsibilities akin to those of a notary with regard to verifying the legal identity of the registrant and be paid accordingly - except when anonymity was required. They also recommended a routine for those who did not wish their identities to be verified or who wanted genuine anonymity. I will not go into the discussion on how they felt that should be organised and enforced.

I also chair the Security Panel for the IT(City of London Livery) Company. Its "mission" is that London (proxy for UK plc) should be the location of choice for globally trusted on-line services. That .UK does not currently mean "subject to UK law" is a matter of serious embarrassment. Interestingly the example (in the report) of supposed confusion over the status of Melton Mowbray (place or pie) helps make the point because it is a protected name under EU law when it comes to where the pork pie is made.

All of course of the domains are owned by individuals.

I think we probably have to agree to disagree on the trade mark community question!

My point on the comparatively low number of submissions was occasioned by a perception that, for whatever reasons/agenda Nominet appeared to be playing it VERY low key.

They took legal advice on why they should NOT email all Registrants and in their Feedback indicate that it would have been "disproportionate"!

Whilst indicating in the document and elsewhere that they had approached many representative bodies I ascertained from two of the UK Accountancy Institutes (one of which I reluctantly admit to be a member of!)that they had not been asked to respond. One of them was even unaware of the proposals!

If, and it's a big if, a revised proposal is brought forward to increase the security of ALL .uk domains and a release/rights mechanism that recognises the existing .uk doaminspace then perhaps it will have been worth the disruption.

Longer term I do feel that the legal structure of Nominet and its responsibilities need radical revision. It is still a very strange beast!

We are now in danger of violent agreement. I have blogged a number of times over the past four or five years on the need to open up discussion - including on the need for registrants to join both Nominet and ICANN (in the case of multi-nationals), to acquire voting rights and to help bring about change from within before it is imposed from outside. A few, e.g. some of the global banks, have joined ICANN and encountered "robust" resistance to their participation in key standards and policy committees as opposed to the customer facing "ICANN at large". I am not currently up to speed with the situation within Nominet but spoke at their annual conference a few years ago and learned that their splits were then based largely on the business models and customer bases of the different types of registrar