The UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has issued advice to holders of .eu domains that, in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, they may need to switch to another top-level domain such as .com and may also need to seek legal advice.
The government guidance, published online on 21st December, says that the European Commission’s notice states that where a holder of a domain name no longer fulfills the general eligibility criteria, the registry for .eu will be entitled to revoke the domain name. This is because the rules for .eu domains are decided by the European Commission and the operator, which won a contract to run .eu, is obliged to follow these rules.
This could mean that even though you were the owner of the .eu domain up until 29 March 2019, after that date, and with a ‘no deal’ Brexit, you may no longer be able to access your .eu website or email. This may also essentially mean that .eu domains cannot be bought or renewed after Brexit by people or organisations located outside the European Union.
Is This A Real Threat?
Yes. In March last year, the European Commission announced it planned to simply cancel all 300,000 domains under the .eu top-level domain that have a UK registrant, after the UK’s departure from the European Union. EURid, the company that runs the .eu domain registry was not even consulted about the EC’s decision.
Also, last September the EU added the .eu registry to the official State of the Union document, stating that the implementation and functioning of the .eu top-level domain name would be included alongside copyright, cybersecurity, and privacy reforms. This means that, if the EU is serious (which it appears to be) and proposed amendments are made to the State of the Union document for post-Brexit, anyone who wants to purchase a .eu domain may need to provide proof of EU citizenship, and registry operators will need to verify that proof.
As well as damaging the profits of Eurid, the UK citizens who hold a .eu domain make 10% of the registry, and by taking such a hard line, the European Union would be reducing its own revenues by a significant amount if it simply excluded UK citizens from owning a .eu domain.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The government may have just lost a ‘no deal’ Brexit vote, but it looks as though the EU had already set itself on a course to stop UK citizens from owning .eu domains with Brexit anyway, even though they will lose the revenue from nearly 300,00 domains. There had been plans to set up a Commission on the implementation of the rules, but this is unlikely to happen or to be able to change the EU’s decisions in such a short time. This means that UK businesses holding .eu domains, having websites with those domains and using email linked to them are now faced with the cost and trouble of having to switch to another top-level domain. One key challenge here, is that they may not be able to find their .com or .uk equivalents, thereby causing even more problems. The EU’s decision looks like being a bad deal for both UK businesses and the EU, and seeking advice both from the registry and/or other independent legal advice may be advisable at this point.