Friday, February 11, 2011

New Nominet Domain Takedown Policy for Criminal Websites

Traditionally, websites which are engaged in criminal activity have their web hosts targeted by law enforcement or, in the case of copyright or trademark infringement, private lawyers.  Domain registrars and the authorities which authorize them to grant domain registrations are usually not responsible for dealing with the content of the websites.

However, in recent days, projects like Operation In Our Sites in the United States have seen actual domain names seized by the authorities (usually for intellectual property infringement).  Now, domain names in the United Kingdom may be subject to similar takedowns.

Nominet, which is the domain name registration authority which oversees the .uk TLD for the United Kingdom, is inviting various groups in the United Kingdom to submit proposals on a new policy for .uk domain name suspensions in relation to criminal activity.  The Serious and Organised Crime Agency, Home Office, British Customs, and other enforcement agencies are among those invited to submit comments.

It is likely that with this new policy, it will become easier to take down criminal websites without being at the mercy of the web hosts responsible for providing the content.  While shutting down a host can just result in a fraudulent or IP infringing webmaster to simply switch their nameservers to a new host, targeting the actual domain will ensure that they have no ability to keep the website up.  Naturally, there will be an appeals process.  Those who believe that they have been wrongfully targeted will be able to appeal to Nominet or another agency over the takedown.

As long as this new takedown policy is not used to make it easier for authorities to silence controversial political content (most countries do not have as strong protections of free speech as the First Amendment provides), it should be good news for those who are tired of copyright infringers simply switching hosts every time a DMCA takedown notice gets sent to the host.  It will be a major disincentive to start online streaming sites and other infringing websites when the sleazy webmasters realize that they can build up their PageRank only to have it all seized overnight.

For more information about the policy change proposal, view the Nominet takedown policy pamphlet.

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