The 12th of April will see new rules apply affecting the .au namespace. Australian Domain Name Administrator (auDA) announced the new rules late last year. The rules will not be retrospective but apply to new registrations, transferals, and also renewals. There are changes affecting .com.au and .net.au which is the focus of this article. We have also written about changes to .org.au. The changes are part of a large overhaul in how auDA is regulating the use of .com.au domain names.

The first change to the .com.au and .net.au domain names pertains to trademark holders. If you are using an Australian Trade Mark to meet the Australian presence requirement, your domain name must be an exact match to the words which are the subject matter of the Australian Trade Mark. The upshot of this is that you can no longer register or renew a domain name that is an abbreviation of the trademark.

The last change, noted in a small paragraph in this section on the auDa website pertains to the definition of a corporate entity. However, for Internet users, it is potentially significant. There is a broadening of the definition of a commercial entity in terms of eligibility, basically allowing the Government to register and own .com.au/.net.au domain names (they are also newly eligible for org.au). New licensing rules include “Commonwealth entities, statutory bodies under commonwealth state or territory legislation, incorporated limited partnerships under State or Territory legislation, trading co-operatives and the government being the crown.”

Previously Government websites use the .gov.au namespace federally, and nsw.gov.au (and other state abbreviations). It was clear to users that the site is a Government department, organisation, or policy initiative. With the ability for Government to register and use .com.au/.net.au/.org.au there is the potential for users to confuse the website with a business or not-for-profit association. There is also the potential for the Government to prevent a business or incorporated association from registering their preferred domain name if it has been already registered by the Government.

There does not appear to be any mechanism preventing the Government from registering any domain they like via the existing and new eligibility criteria. The Australian State and Federal Governments and Government bodies can effectively become domain squatters. This is another reason to make sure you don’t allow your domain name to lapse, and for new businesses, that you register your ABN and domain name as soon as possible in your start-up journey.

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