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Brexit: risk flagged over websites and email access

UK businesses have been urged to take action to avoid the potential loss of access to their websites or email services after Brexit.09 Jan 2019

The risk was flagged in recent guidance prepared by the UK government on the implications of a potential 'no deal' Brexit on '.eu' top level domain name registrations.

The right to register web addresses rooted in the '.eu' domain is restricted under EU law. Registration is only open to undertakings that have their registered office, central administration or principal place of business within the EU, organisations that are established within the EU, where national law permits, and natural persons resident within the EU.

The restrictions mean that, absent any deal struck to say otherwise, many UK businesses risk having existing '.eu' registrations revoked, and will also be unable to renew those registrations, after Brexit.

In its guidance, issued after the European Commission had written to stakeholders on the topic, the UK government said businesses "may wish to discuss transferring your registration to another top level domain", such as '.com', '.co.uk', '.net' or '.org', if their current '.eu' registration is due to expire after 29 March 2019 – the date the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. It warned of what may happen if businesses ignore the guidance.

"The Commission’s notice states that where a holder of a domain name no longer fulfils the general eligibility criteria, the registry for '.eu' will be entitled to revoke such a domain name on its own initiative," the UK guidance said. "This means you may not be able to access your '.eu' website or email."

"You may wish to seek advice from your local domain name registrar on whether the terms of your contractual agreement provide for any recourse in the event of revocation of a '.eu' registration. You may also want to seek legal advice," it said.

David Woods, an expert in domain name registrations at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "It is perhaps unlikely that '.eu' domain registrars would purge UK registrations in the immediate aftermath of Brexit given the volume of complaints this would attract from business, the administrative burden involved in proactively revoking the registrations and the lack of a clear commercial incentive to do so. The issue is more likely to arise around renewals. However, given the restrictions on legal entitlement on ownership, UK businesses are unlikely to have much recourse in the event of revocation."

"The focus for UK businesses that own domain addresses rooted at the '.eu' domain should be to seek to redirect '.eu' web addresses to other domain names they own and to transfer '.eu' registrations to other domains. In some cases it may be necessary for businesses to engage with domain name dispute resolution schemes to claim alternative domain names from cybersquatters," he said.