If you’ve never heard of Nominet, you should have. It’s the organisation that manages most of the domain names ending in .uk. It was set up in 1996 as a company when the previous arrangements (known as the Naming Committee) became overwhelmed. The Naming Committee granted the use of domain names to their rightful owners for no charge, but only their rightful owners. Nominet charged, and was more relaxed about who it sold things to – being too picky meant less income, and it needed income to cope with the increased demand for Internet services.
The snag with this new arrangement was that it allowed speculators to register as many domain names as they wished, with a view to charging end users money to use something they’d pre-registered. This is known as cyber-squatting, although people in this business prefer to call themselves “domainers”.
Nominet was created for the benefit of Internet users in the UK, not cyber-squatters. Unfortunately, cyber-squatters register more domain names than anyone else (as they would), and started to get an undue influence based on their size. Cyber-squatters make various claims about how they’re important for a “vibrant market” in domain names, but there’s no benefit to society in such a market. You could say they’re trading in something that should be free to legitimate users. Some would go as far as to call them parasites. If any cyber-squatters or domainers wish to explain exactly why the label is unfair, please enlighten me.
Anyway, the Nominet board isn’t stupid and has, in recent years, done a lot to skew things in favour of UK Internet users. Not enough as far as I’m concerned, but they’re trying to look after the majority. The cyber-squatters don’t like this, and have started personal attacks on Nominet’s CEO, Lesley Cowley in an attempt to get rid of her with a view to installing someone more of their liking. What’s really upset them was a consultation to allow people to register names directly under .uk, without a .co.uk or .org.uk. For example, Tesco could have been tesco.uk, as is often the case in other countries. Legitimate UK ownership would have been verified, like in the old days, but they would also have cost more. Cyber-squatters hated the idea, because their current stock-pile of .co.uk names would have been somewhat devalued! They had to defeat Nominet in order to preserve their “investment”. The rest of us would have quite like to see the speculators clobbered, although I’ve never had the feeling that was Nominet’s intention.
Nominet has finally had enough, and late this afternoon launched a High Court action against Graeme Wingate and his company That Internet Ltd, citing “[unacceptable] harassment and victimisation of our staff”. What this is really about is whether Nominet is run for the benefit of everyone, or the cyber-squatters.