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Brexit: What Happens To UK-Owned .EU Domains?

Losing your .EU privileges could wreck your website and email addresses.

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Losing your .EU privileges could wreck your website and email addresses.

Opinions

Brexit: What Happens To UK-Owned .EU Domains?

Losing your .EU privileges could wreck your website and email addresses.

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One of the consequences of Brexit that has gone somewhat under the radar is the impact it could have on .EU domain names, which are owned and used by many UK businesses.

On 28 March 2018, the European Commission issued a notice stating that the regulatory framework that governs the use of .EU domain names will cease to apply to the UK as of the withdrawal date (which will be 29 March 2019 in the event of no deal).

How will this affect you and your business?

Like almost every aspect of Brexit, the potential effects are subject to any transitional arrangements agreed between the EU and the UK Government, but the European Commission’s notice highlights the following potential effects:

  • Businesses and individuals residing in the UK will no longer be eligible to register .EU domain names;
  • Existing .EU domain names registered to proprietors in the UK may be revoked by the central .EU Registry (EURid);
  • It will no longer be possible to invoke the UK legal rights (either registered or unregistered) in challenging any .EU domain names that are identical or confusingly similar to a name that is protected by UK or EU law (i.e. to prevent cyber-squatting); and
  • Agreements between .EU registrars and .EU registrants will not be able to designate a law other than those of a member state of the EU as applicable law. Any provisions that conflict with this will need to be amended.

Losing the use of a .EU domain name would obviously affect a business’s website, but it would also mean that email addresses run through that domain would cease to function.

What can UK businesses and individuals do to protect their .EU domain name?

UK proprietors of .EU domain names will be keeping a close eye on the Brexit negotiations, and all may not be lost as companies in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are all allowed to hold .EU domains, despite not being Member States. However, to offer maximum protection, UK holders could consider:

  • Transferring ownership of any .EU domain names to EU-based subsidiaries; or
  • Using an alternative top-level domain (e.g. .com or .co.uk) in parallel immediately, so that, if .EU is no longer available, website traffic, search engine optimisation and email addresses can be re-routed with as little disruption as possible.

One obvious potential casualty is the pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU.

Leaving aside the intrinsic irony that it has selected as its name a domain name that was only available to it because of the UK’s membership of the EU, one can’t help but wonder about the fate of all the Leave.EU merchandise currently on sale via its online shop.

If a compromise is not reached, Leave.EU may be one of the first to feel adverse financial consequences of Brexit.

Tom Lingard is IP specialist and partner at Stevens & Bolton LLP. Emily Hocken is a trainee solicitor at the same firm.

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Brexit: What Happens To UK-Owned .EU Domains?

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