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Starting 24 March 2022, Australia’s domain name authority, au Domain Administration Ltd (auDA), will be opening registrations to the .au direct namespace for individuals, businesses and organisations.1

Practitioners and law firms are encouraged to consult the updated ‘.au Domain Administration Rules: Licensing‘ and the new ‘.au Domain Administration Rules: .au Direct Priority Implementation‘ to ensure that their firms’ and clients’ existing domain names are secured when .au direct namespace registrations open to the public.

Australian domain names

A domain name is the address internet users use to visit a particular website (qls.com.au, for example). Australia’s current domain namespaces require at least three components or ‘levels’, including the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) (e.g. .au), the second-level domain (e.g. .com) and the third-level domain (e.g. qls).

The new .au direct namespace will allow users to register a domain name directly before ‘.au’ (e.g. qls.au), making Australian domain names shorter and potentially more memorable.

Importantly, the .au direct namespace will complement – not replace – the existing third-level .au names (including .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au, .id.au, .gov.au and .edu.au), to provide Australians with more domain name options.

The new .au direct namespace will also bring Australia in line with other jurisdictions, including New Zealand (.nz), United Kingdom (.uk), Canada (.ca) and the USA (.us), who have introduced direct second-level domains under their respective ccTLDs.2

Who is eligible?

auDA have relaxed the eligibility requirements for a ‘.au’ direct domain name licence, with any individual, business or organisation with a verified ‘Australian presence’ eligible to register.3

Australian presence has been defined broadly to include, amongst other things, an Australian citizen, a company registered under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and an entity issued with an Australian Business Number.4

Owners of Australian trade marks who do not otherwise satisfy the Australian presence requirement will be eligible to apply for a ‘.au’ direct domain name licence, provided the proposed domain name is an exact match to the Australian trade mark.5

Comparatively, the eligibility rules for the third-level Australian namespaces (.com.au, et cetera) include additional requirements for specific applicant entity types, and a link between the domain name chosen and the name or business operations of the applicant.6 This is not the case with the .au direct namespace – an applicant can register any available .au direct domain name, so long as they satisfy the Australian presence requirement.

Priority allocation process

auDA have established a priority allocation process to allow registrants with an existing Australian domain name to apply to reserve the matching .au direct domain name. Existing registrants will have from 24 March 2022 to 20 September 2022 (Commencement Period) to apply for priority status based on their existing domain name licence.7

However, given Australia’s existing third-level domain names, it is possible for more than one registrant to apply for the same domain name in the .au direct namespace. For example, the registrants of ‘website.com.au’ and ‘website.org.au’, are both eligible to apply for the corresponding .au direct domain name, ‘website.au’.

To address this, auDA have developed priority categories to allocate .au direct domain names:8

  • Category 1: Names created on or before 4 February 2018
  • Category 2: Names created after 4 February 2018

If there are multiple priority applicants for the same .au direct domain name, the domain name will be allocated as follows:9

  1. Category 1 applicants have priority over Category 2 applicants
  2. Where there are multiple Category 1 applications, the name is allocated on agreement between the Category 1 applicants – if no agreement is reached, the domain name remains on hold until there is one active Category 1 application
  3. Where there are only Category 2 applicants, the name is allocated to the applicant with the earliest creation date.

If no priority application is made for a domain name within the Commencement Period, then the domain name will become generally available to the public on a first come, first served basis, subject to the applicant satisfying the abovementioned eligibility rules.10

It is important to note that auDA follows a ‘no hierarchy of rights’ policy with respect to Australian domain names. Holders of other name registrations (such as trade marks, business names or company names) will not receive priority over any other domain name applicant, other than where the above priority allocation processes apply.11

Dispute resolution

The complaints process contained in the ‘.au Dispute Resolution Policy‘ (auDRP) will remain available to parties.

Under the auDRP, the holder of a ‘.au’ direct domain name may still be subject to complaint proceedings, which may result in cancellation or transfer of their domain name where:

  • the complainant demonstrates a legitimate right or interest in the domain name (for example, the complainant holds a registered Australian trade mark)
  • the domain name holder has no legitimate rights or interests in the domain name
  • the domain name is registered or used in bad faith.

The registration and use of domain names may also be subject to court proceedings and orders, including proceedings or orders based on trade mark infringement, misleading and deceptive conduct and passing off.

Yale Hudson-Flux is a graduate intern at Queensland Law Society.

Ben Thorn is Chair of the QLS Technology and Intellectual Property Law Committee. He is also an Associate Member with auDA.

Footnotes
1 auDA, Australia’s Internet domain is growing – get ready to getyour.au.
2 Ibid.
3 auDA, .au Domain Administration Rules: Licensing [2.4.3].
4 See the full list at Ibid [1.4].
5 Ibid [1.4].
6 Ibid [2.4.4] – [2.4.8].
7 auDA, The priority allocation process.
8 auDA, .au Domain Administration Rules: .au Direct Priority Implementation [1.5.5] – [1.5.13].
9 Ibid [1.5.5] – [1.5.13]; auDA, Priority Allocation of .au direct domain names for existing .au registrants
10 auDA, The priority allocation process.
11 auDA, .au Domain Administration Rules: .au Direct Priority Implementation [1.5.12].

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