Emily Taylor: Nominet

Nominet’s potentially controversial dispute resolution service has proved to be a coup for its in-house legal team. Steve Hoare reports

The value of a domain name – a perennial story in the dotcom days – hit the headlines again recently. Computer giant Apple had turned to Nominet’s dispute resolution service to try to gain use of the domain name itunes.co.uk. A 22-year-old entrepreneur named Benjamin Cohen registered the name in 2000 with a view to launching his own online music business. Little did he realise that the world’s leading computer music company would one day dub its own online service ‘itunes’.

For Apple, the domain name is probably seen as being of crucial strategic importance, for Cohen probably less so. But he has every right to the name and insists that had Apple offered him a reasonable sum and not got heavy with the lawyers he might have handed it over. A decision is expected in around three weeks. Whatever the result, it is a perfect example of the good work of Nominet and the importance of the dispute resolution service it launched in 2001.

Nominet is the registry for .uk internet domain names. It manages the database of .uk domain names. It does not sell domain name registrations. It is a not-for-profit company and is officially recognised as the UK registry by the internet industry, users and the Government.

Emily Taylor is Nominet’s director of legal and policy. She joined Nominet in April 2000 as the fledgling organisation’s first in-house lawyer from Manches in Oxford, where she had worked as one of Nominet’s key outside counsel.

Taylor joined a staff of just 15 people who were running around like mad things trying to cope with an upsurge in domain name registrations. “Nominet was still coming to terms with its own existence,” says Taylor.

Prominent in Taylor’s in-tray was the creation of an effective dispute resolution service. Originally, Nominet had just three lawyers making decisions on disputes. The organisation was under pressure from interested parties, ranging from multinational brand owners to small businesses to internet geeks, intent on preserving freedom of speech on their beloved worldwide web.

“Each group had legitimate demands,” says Taylor. “We were so nervous launching it because there were some quite radical changes. The most important thing was that we wanted to take Nominet’s lawyers out of the process.”

The big fear was that the process would be the puppet of trademark owners. All the different interest groups were consulted as well as some of the country’s top lawyers. Geoffrey Hobbs QC of One Essex Court assisted, as did Tony Willoughby of Willoughby & Partners. Willoughby was eventually appointed chairman of the 30-person panel of experts chosen to review disputed cases, a position he holds to this day.

Taylor, Hobbs, Willoughby and all those associated with the formation of the dispute resolution service should feel proud that the process has endured and caused so little controversy.

Aside from the disputes service, Taylor’s team has had its hands full dealing with a few disputes of its own. These have mainly been people attempting to pass themselves off as Nominet in order to sell domain names. For most of these disputes, Taylor has instructed the firm that she trained with, CMS Cameron McKenna. She tried a number of firms before returning to Camerons, she says, and while she diplomatically refuses to elaborate, her tone of voice betrays the fact that she was unimpressed by those firms’ lack of industry knowledge.

“There’s not a lot of nitty-gritty knowledge of how [the industry] works,” she says. “You don’t need to be a geek, but you need to know how it works.”

One case that Camerons could not help with came to light when Nominet started receiving cheques from Australia. A company that called itself the UK Internet Registry had hacked into Nominet’s database and was sending people renewal notices for their domain names using Nominet’s corporate colours and typeface. It was only upon closer inspection that it was revealed that these were not renewal notices for .co.uk domains, but an offer for .com domains. Again, Taylor had problems finding an Australian law firm that would go after the culprits. Eventually Australian firm Allens Arthur Robinson stepped into the breach and successfully sued for copyright infringement.

Taylor’s deputy, company solicitor Edward Phillips, handles much of the day-to-day legal work, while Taylor’s job has evolved. She continues to be responsible for the legal department but is now more involved in policy, meeting those involved in dealing with internet governance around the world, as well as being responsible for Nominet’s policy advisory board.

“We can’t really create policy in a vacuum,” says Taylor. The Department of Trade and Industry, the Centre for Business and Industry, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, chambers of commerce and Companies House all contribute to the debate relating to how Nominet should be run.

One of the most interesting developments in internet governance has been the emergence of the Working Group on Internet Governance. The group is compiling a report on internet governance for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a UN-endorsed body, which next meets in November. The WSIS looks likely to challenge Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (Icann) highly controversial spell as unofficial global governor of the internet.

“It’s not a UN body, but it was formed by the UN, and a lot of the contributors are government and not industry. We’re working hard to make sure the voice of industry will be heard, but if the industry doesn’t wake up and make its voice heard, it will lose out,” warns Taylor.

She adds: “The UN has lots of legitimacy and a global remit, and many people think it’s a natural home for internet governance, which leaves Icann’s position very uncertain.”
Emily Taylor
Director of legal and policy
NominetSector

Statistics
Organisation Nominet
Sector Internet
Turnover £10m
Legal spend £250,000-£300,000
Employees 140
Legal capability Three
Director of legal and policy Emily Taylor
Reporting to Managing director Lesley Cowley
Main law firms CMS Cameron McKenna and Goodman Derrick