Effective 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) definitively left the European Union (EU)(1). This departure is not without consequences for our registration rules, given that since December 2011, the .fr TLD has been open to any natural or legal person resident in the EU, which until recently included the UK.
Let’s not beat about the bush: with effect from 1 January, UK residents are no longer eligible for the .fr TLD or any of the other TLDs managed by Afnic and listed in the Naming Charter(2).
For a proper understanding of the reasons for this change it is appropriate to recall the eligibility rules laid down in the Charter, which are taken directly from the provisions of the French Post and Electronic Communications Code, namely:
“The registration or renewal of a domain name can be requested by any natural person residing and any legal person having its registered office or main establishment:
- in one of the European Union member states;
- or in one of the following countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.”
Since the UK is no longer a member of the EU, its residents are no longer eligible.
Residence in EU member states
The Naming Charter will not however be amended, since the notion of residence in the territory of an EU member state remains pertinent for establishing a holder’s eligibility.
However, the EU territory has changed since 1 January 2021 and requires some clarification. The UK comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So the residents of all these territories are no longer eligible under the Naming Charter.
But what about holders of domain names registered before 1 January 2021 and resident in the UK?
The principle of non-retroactivity of the naming rules
There are currently about 34,000 .fr domain names registered before 1 January 2021 by holders resident in the UK.
It is therefore important to recall that the Naming Charter provides that the application of new rules cannot be retroactively effective, with certain exceptions (see Article 1.3 of the Charter).
This means that these holders may keep their domain names without having to change address, since they complied with the eligibility rules in force at the time they registered their domain names.
Rights of holders of domain names registered before Brexit
Following this same logic, holders of domain names registered before 1 January 2021 and resident in the UK will be able to renew the registration of their domain names as many times as they wish.
As regards transfer to a new holder, account must be taken of the place of residence of the new holder.
- If the new holder is resident in one of the 27 EU member states or in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, a “voluntary” transfer may be carried out at any time with the registrars concerned.
- If the new holder is resident in the UK, it will not be possible to carry out such a transfer since it will not comply with the eligibility criteria of the Naming Charter.
So we have to envisage a transfer of a domain name, the original holder of which no longer has the legal capacity to carry out a voluntary transfer.
This is the case for example of a company that no longer legally exists, or less often, a deceased natural person.
This can happen when a company has been wound up or with corporate transactions such as mergers or splits, when updating the holder’s contact details in the Whois database becomes impossible.
In this particular case, Afnic proposes a forced transfer procedure known as a “Recover”. This procedure allows the transfer of a domain name to be forced when the “exiting” holder no longer has the legal capacity to give consent to the operation. In this particular case, Afnic makes sure that a legal or commercial link is demonstrated between the exiting holder and the new holder.
A holder resident in the UK who registered a domain name before 1 January 2021 can:
- keep the domain name after that date;
- renew it;
- transfer it to an eligible new holder; and
- benefit from the forced transfer procedure in the particular cases provided for by the Naming Charter.
If the Brexit agreements and more particularly the rules relating to domain names evolve in the coming months we shall not fail to update you on these matters.
(1): The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. On 1 January 2021 it left the customs union and the common market.
(2) : .re (La Réunion), .yt (Mayotte), .pm (Saint-Pierre et Miquelon), .wf (Wallis-et-Futuna) et .tf (Terres australes et antarctiques Françaises).