Last week, the European Commission published a Notice to Stakeholders warning of the consequences of the UK leaving the EU to the over 300.000 .eu domain names currently registered in the UK.
Once the UK has left the EU on 29 March 2019, undertakings which have their registered office or principal place of business in the UK will no longer be able to register or renew the EU Top Level Domain (ie a domain name ending in “.eu”.) . This is in line with the European Court of Justice Decision C-276/11 in Pie Optiek SPRL which set out that the owner of a .eu domain name must satisfy the test of presence in the EU to be allowed to own a .eu domain name.
The EU Notice goes as far as warning and reminding businesses that EURid, the Registry for .eu domains, can on its own initiative unilaterally revoke .eu domain names owned by undertakings that do not fulfil the requirements for ownership. Such cancellation will not be subject to any extrajudicial settlement of conflicts. This is, of course, contrary to the usual industry norm and best practice of registered domains being retained or “grandfathered”.
Around 317.000 .eu domain names are registered in the UK, - about 10% of all the .eu Top Level Domains registered with EURid. The cancellation of such a large number of domains would be a huge burden for EURid. Moreover, EURid appears to have been surprised by the Notice and, on its website, highlights the fact that the information provided by the EU Commission is still “subject to any transitional arrangement that may be contained in a possible withdrawal agreement”.
However, in view of the significant uncertainty surrounding Brexit and any potential transitional arrangement and withdrawal agreement, it would be prudent for companies owning .eu domain names to review their domain name strategy now, and to register an alternative domain as a contingency.