December 10, 2018

Nominet :: A flawed organisation

(Last Updated On: 31st July 2018)

Needless to say, the content of this post is my personal opinion, it’s biased, but based on my experiences whilst dealing with Nominet in a recent dispute related to this blog.

I felt it necessary to write about my experiences with Nominet. As I have posted about recently, since March 2017 I have been involved in a dispute over our former name, SYNACK.co.uk. This has given me an experience of Nominet that I would have preferred to avoid.

During this post, I will discuss the following:

  1. What happened before the dispute
  2. Dispute Stage 1: Mediation and Silence
  3. Dispute Stage 3: Arrival of the “Expert”
  4. Dispute Stage 4: Get your house up for sale if you wanna appeal!

1 – What happened before the dispute

So, I’m at work. Specifically on a customer site for a large installation. I go out for a bite to eat at lunch time and check my phone – I have an email from Nominet. Turns out, an unknown third party has put a request in for my personal details – this is because I was using who.is privacy, which is/was standard for individuals with .co.uk domain names (different rules for business). Very odd indeed.

A couple of days pass. I’m onsite with that same customer. I get an email from a “Lawyer” representing Synack.com over a dispute about my use of our domain. Their first plan was to scare me with letters and phone calls from solicitors informing me how I’m breaking trademark laws by using SYNACK.co.uk, and that I need to cease my use and hand over the domain. Luckily, as any engineer would do when faced with a problem, I turned to Google. “Trademark law UK” to be specific. Turns out if your not using a trademarked word in the course of trade, then you’re not breaching a trademark registration. We sell no services, serve no ads and can in no way be described as trading. I explain this to their solicitor; it admittedly isn’t accepted but I don’t heard from them again for a while. I wonder if that’s all of it?

2 – Nope! Mediation and Silence

Synack.com decide to raise a dispute. This costs them a very minor amount of money, can’t remember what exactly but somewhere in the region of £200-£300. Not insignificant for an individual like me, but nothing to a large organisation with a point to prove. They put a case, I form a response. They are granted another opportunity to adjust their case, I am not afforded any such luxury. My response was based on Nominets own policy for determining whether a registration is abusive. I built my case on facts and answered every point of their policy. I felt this was a pretty solid case. One element open to debate was whether I knew of Synack.com prior to the registration, I didn’t, but I cannot prove the non-existence of knowledge of something at a previous time, and so my word would surely be enough, especially since the complainant cannot prove otherwise, as no such proof exists.

So starts a back and forth process between me and someone who at first glance seemed helpful. Eventually this resulted in a financial offer for the domain from Synack.com to the tune of £750. I made clear my intention that my preference in this process was to hold on to hold on to the domain, but if given the choice between losing it for nothing, and losing it for £750, I would of course take £750 – but again, preference is to keep the domain – that was my aim.

I hear nothing for months. Seriously, months and months pass. I check the Domain Resolution Service site at some point and randomly see a status of “Resolved” on the dispute. Have I won? Have Synack.com given up? I ask for details, several times. I hear nothing. Fast forward to July and I receive an email saying the case will be officially closed, and its the last chance for either side to appeal (appeal what exactly?). I wait until the deadline in the hope this case would come to an end. But it was not to be.

3 – Arrival of the “Expert”

Alas! Someone who knows what they’re talking about and all for a cost in the region of just £750 for the company, totalling a little over £1,000 so far for the big guys. Surely an expert who deals with this stuff every day can clearly see that I am not impeding the trade of this company? Surely they can see that I am not benefiting in any way from our former namesake? Surely they can see we have completely different target audiences? Surely they can see we are in no way trying to appear like Synack? Surely they can see that SYN ACK and Synack are are different as bucket and spade and buckandspade? Surely…? Surely… No.

Not only is this expert blind to the obvious, during his report he paints a negative picture of someone he doesn’t know. He paints an image of me that is unfavourable. Someone who prowls the internet looking for nonsense words, to try and profit from them by creating sites that in no way generate an income. This report is very personal, it’s an attack on my character and it’s the thing that has left me most sore about this entire experience. He makes claims without proof, whilst using flawed logic to justify it and making wild assumptions, whilst ignoring obvious context to the two uses of the term “SYN ACK”. I’m sure he’s an expert at something, but that something isn’t fair and unbiased assessments of disputes. Then again, why wouldn’t he find in favour of the company paying for his time?

One thing that confused me a great deal about the “Experts” response was that he dismissed all my points, which were strictly responses based on Nominet policy as not relevant. His justification for the lack of relevance in my response was all based around the fact that I must have known about Synack prior to my registration, ignoring the context of my use and making that assumption based on no factual evidence. What kind of fair system makes assumptions, based on no facts and ignores Nominets own policy on the matter? How can a system like that be fair?

The experts “alternative facts” to be derived from the report:

  1. I must have known about Synack.com prior to my registration of SYNACK.co.uk. – I did not and have not been presented with any evidence to the contrary. It’s perfectly plausible for me not to search Synack as one word, because in my context it’s two words, SYN and ACK. When you search this in Google, the results are staggeringly different.
  2. I must have registered the domain to disrupt or damage the claimants business, or to benefit from its brand in some way. – This could not have been my intention as I wasn’t aware of them. Equally, their target audience is not similar to ours. They are trying to sell to usually non-IT literate customers. We are trying to inform IT literate professionals.
  3. The fact Synack.com doesn’t have a large presence in the UK is not relevant. It is. How can I be expected to be of a company that at the time didn’t have a large presence in the UK?
  4. The claimant (Synack.com) has suffered substantial damage from the registration of Synack.co.uk by a third party. – How? We make no effort to look like them, we make no claim to being affiliated with them, we have different target audiences, we do not trade or compete with them… what am I missing?
  5. The claimant has a RIGHT to the domain Synack.co.uk. – Ignoring Nominet policy. Having a trademark in itself does not grant a RIGHT to a domain, they merely have a claim to it. I had this confirmed by Nominet themselves, and the confirmed this is the case.

4 – 1 bed ground floor flat, for sale ASAP

So here I am, the final stage of this dispute. I am not sure when I will post this, but at the time of writing I have until 13th August 2018 to either lose our domain, or pay in excess of £3,000 to appeal. Yes, that’s right, over £3,000. To be clear, I expect if you were to look at all Complainants of Nominet disputes, you’ll likely find they are medium to large organisations, respondents will probably contain a large number of individuals. Nominet has created a system that favours organisations and punishes the underdog. It’s a process that puts you through months of stress, near depression and uncertainty, all for the relatively small sum of around £1,000 for an organisation. It’s cheap and legal torture. However, for the privilege of prolonging that torture in the hope of finding some sort of justice, the individual has to pay the life changing sum of £3,000. Perhaps I’m over playing the life changing part, but the fact remains £3,000+ is a sum very few people have laying around, regardless of your financial status, let alone a sum of money to be thrown in to a system that only favours business and punishes the individual.

Summary

If you are someone in my situation, or an organisation who is genuinely suffering from the misuse of your brand – you have my deepest sympathies and I wish you the best in your cases. All I can say is that Nominet is not an unbiased or fair organisation. They will personally attack you, make assumptions without any basis and make you question why you even bother running a website. They don’t want or support an open internet, they don’t want small or personal sites/blogs. They want an internet made of large organisations and will attack you personally and question your integrity to achieve it.

One thing positive has come of their decision, and that is that this event is finally over, and perhaps I can build up the motivation to make some useful posts for people – once we have a new name.

Thanks for reading.

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Jake is a security engineer working in West Yorkshire. He has experience with various firewall vendors including FortiGate, Check Point, Cisco and Palo Alto.

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