Abusive Domain Name Registrations and the Right to a Day in Court

The High Court has ruled that a finding by Nominet of an abusive registration of a domain does not entitle a party to refer the matter to the courts.

Nominet, which is the body responsible undertaking registration of the domain names containing the ‘.uk’ suffix, operates a dispute resolution service to facilitate settlement of domain registration disagreements. The service involves appointing an expert to determine whether a particular registration is abusive, although this is a matter for determination for the expert alone. Parties objecting to a particular registration are entitled to resort to the courts in the first instance, but not after having failed under the Nominet dispute resolution service.

In Toth v Emirates (2011), Emirates, the airline operator, challenged Mr Toth’s registration of ’emirates.co.uk’a, arguing that its ownership of the trade mark meant the registration by Mr Toth was abusive. Nominet initially found in favour of Mr Toth, although an appeals panel reversed the decision and found in favour of Emirates. Mr Toth then sought a declaration from the High Court that his registration of the domain was not abusive.

Emirates argued that Mr Toth was not entitled to appeal the matter and that only the expert could determine whether or not the registration was abusive. It further argued that Mr Toth was essentially looking to have a decided matter reheard, which was not allowed under the Nominet rules.

The court agreed with Emirates and struck out Mr Toth’s application for a declaration. In his judgment, Mr Justice Mann noted that recourse to the courts was unlikely to provide the same closely regulated, cheap quick and efficient method of resolution as the Nominet system. He also stated that the court did not have the power to make the declaration sought under the Civil Procedure Rules despite Mr Toth’s assertion that it did. He cited the Nominet rules which leave the question to the expert and stated that the court must decline to make a declaration.

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