The part of a website address 'to the right of the dot' is the Top Level Domain (TLD). Some TLDs, such as .com and .org, are global TLDS (gTLDs). Others, such as .fr and .de, are country-code TLDs (ccTLDs). Unlike most ccTLDs, .uk has only been available in conjunction with a Second Level Domain (SLD), including .co.uk, .org.uk, .ac.uk, .gov.uk, and .police.uk.
Nominet is the organisation which manages the .uk TLD. It delegates management of certain national SLDs, such as .mod.uk and .nhs.uk, to the appropriate government department. The other SLDs were intended for various categories of user: .co.uk for commerce, .org.uk for non-commercial organisations, .me.uk for individuals, .plc for public limited companies registered at Companies House, and so on. In practice, .co.uk has been the most popular domain, and is used for non-commercial and personal websites far more often than .org.uk and .me.uk.
What is changing, and why?
From 10 June 2014, Nominet allows domains to be registered without a SLD, in the form 'domain.uk'. This brings the UK's ccTLD into line with other ccTLDs - in France, for example, registrations have always been in the form 'domain.fr'.
Nominet's explanation for the change is that: "The new shorter, sharper .uk focuses the attention firmly on your website name, putting the emphasis on your brand".
An alternative theory is that so few websites have been registered in the .org.uk, .me.uk, .ltd.uk and .plc.uk domains, that the use of SLDs to distinguish domains has proved to be a pointless exercise.
More cynical commentators suggest that the release of .uk domains is simply a way to force brands to buy more domains, though it should be noted that Nominet is a non-profit organisation.
What about my .co.uk domain?
For every .co.uk domain you owned before 23.59hrs on 28 October 2013, you will have the right to register the equivalent .uk domain in the next five years. If there is no .co.uk domain, it will be offered to the owner of the .org.uk domain; if no .org.uk domain, it will be offered to the owner of the .me.uk domain.
Registration of a .uk domain equivalent to an existing domain will be free of charge, if it is done in the five year period. If a domain does not already exist in any of the SLDs, then a new registration can be made in .uk. The cost of this will be roughly £5 per year.
TLT's specialist IT and IP lawyers advise on brand management and protection, including domain name filing strategies. Please feel free to get in touch if you would like further information on how we could help to grow and protect your reputation online.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2014. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.
TLT LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales number OC 308658 whose registered office is at One Redcliff Street, Bristol BS1 6TP England. A list of members (all of whom are solicitors or lawyers) can be inspected by visiting the People section of this website. TLT LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 406297.