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Automatic Renewal Of Domain Names

A contentious issue, at least in the .au domain name space, is whether or not a domain name registrar, or their appointed resellers, may automatically renew a domain name that you previously registered through them. While this may be a welcome convenience for those wishing to have their domain names renewed, for others it is nothing more than an expense wasted on unwanted domain names.

The .au Domain Name Suppliers’ Code of Practice (2004-04) (the Code) provides the code of practice for all registrars and resellers in the .au space. This includes the .com.au, .org.au, .net.au, .asn.au and .id.au domain names, which are known as second-level domain names.

Under the Code, a registrar or reseller must only register a domain name at the request of a customer. In respect of domain name renewals, a customer must either request or approve the renewal of a domain name. Also, the registrar or reseller must obtain confirmation from the customer that they continue to satisfy the domain name eligibility criteria.

The prescribed process under the Code
The Code states that where a registrant (the customer) has opted-in to an auto-renewal service, the registrar or reseller must send an email notification to the registrant (the customer) at least 30 days prior to the date that the domain name is due to be auto-renewed, which includes the following:

  1. the date that the registrant’s (the customer) domain name is due to be auto-renewed, and information about how to opt-out of the service prior to that date;
  2. an extract of the current WHOIS information for the domain name, or a link to the WHOIS information for the domain name, with a request that the registrant (the customer) check the WHOIS information for accuracy;
  3.  information about how the registrant (the customer) can update the WHOIS information for the domain name if required; and
  4. a statement that by allowing the domain name to be automatically renewed, the registrant (the customer) warrants that the WHOIS information is correct and they continue to satisfy the Domain Name Eligibility and Allocation Policy Rules for Open Second Level Domains.

In the event that a registrar or reseller does not fully comply with the above conditions when renewing a domain name, they will have failed to meet their obligations under the Code. Consequently, renewal of a domain name should not have occurred.

Whilst most domain name disputes involve competing interests in a domain name (in some cases, legitimately), there is an upward trend in disputes relating to automatic renewal of domain name, where such request was not made.

The Code clearly sets out the process for registrars and resellers to follow when renewing Australian second-level domain names. Therefore, a registrar or reseller that is professional, transparent and communicative could easily avoid disputes relating to unwelcome renewal of domain names.

Since renewal fees usually equate to small amounts, disputes relating to the automatic renewal of domain names (where renewal was not requested) do not usually lead to much more than a jaded customer. Therefore, a domain name registrar or reseller must consider the potential for negative impact upon its brand.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the refund of domain name renewal fees, in most cases, may be far less costly than cutting a jaded customer loose. This is particularly true given that we all now have a global platform to share our experiences.