Interview: Emily Taylor – Nominet and the World

June 15, 2008

This is part of a much longer exchange with Emily Taylor, who was kind enough to find time to explain her role and the changing expectations that Nominet is coping with. The focus was initially on Nominet’s dispute resolution service. We moved thereafter to discuss the issues that intrigue us both about the future of the Internet in an age where the cultural assumptions that underpin it are butting against the very different cultural expectations, and very different needs, that are to be found in the ever widening world of Internet users.

Emily joined Nominet as its first in-house lawyer in 2000. She is responsible for liaison with key stakeholders such as parliamentarians, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Nominet Policy Advisory Body. Emily was responsible for the design and implementation of the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service, which was launched in September 2001.

Nominet’s legal department, which is headed by Emily, has won a number of awards including the CEDR Award for Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution (Industry), 2004, and Legal Week’s 2005 In-house Technology Media and Telecoms team of the year.
In 2005, Emily was elected as a non-executive director of CENTR, the Council for European National Top Level Domain Registries, and in 2006 she was appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations as the only UK-based representative to serve on the Advisory Group to the Internet Governance Forum.

LE: Let’s start with matters that are close to home. The Nominet DRS has been subject to quite a long running review. Is that about to end? Are we about to see the post-review version?

ET: The DRS has been updated and the we expect the final version to be implemented in the Summer. It has involved a lengthy consultation process. There have been extensive developments in the secondary market and it was important to listen to what they had to say as well as taking account of the views of others involved in the industry.

LE: What is it that was wrong with the old system that made you want to change the Nominet DRS scheme?

ET: The system we have works well overall. There is a brisk level of turnover – we deal with 50 to 100 cases a month. That is a significant number but, of course, it is a tiny fraction of the 100,000 registrations and 100,000 renewals we deal with each month. But when there is a dispute it has to be dealt with properly because a domain name can be crucial to business success – and the loss of a domain name can have catastrophic effects on a business.
One thing that has marked us out, and which is retained, is our reliance on mediation. We have two highly qualified mediators, trained through CEDR, and they have a 50% success rate. If mediation does not resolve a dispute then we have expert decisions, made by lawyers and non-lawyers, on the basis of written submissions.

What mainly needed to change was our treatment of non-genuine disputes. Complainants got very angry about being asked to pay £750 for the resolution of a dispute when the other party to the supposed dispute could not be bothered to defend. The latest changes involve a summary transfer procedure where there is no response. The summary transfer system that we originally proposed has been adapted following consultation. There is a much smaller fee where a prima facie case for transfer is made and there is no continued dispute but we have stepped back from the automatic transfer where there is no opposition. Every complaint will be ‘eyeballed’ by a real person because it was suggested that the original proposal allowed for unprincipled objectors to launch multiple complaints, a bit like a denial of service attack, and profit if the true owner failed to respond in time. Even with that fee, our DRS is much more affordable than litigation and we expect the new scheme to be welcomed.

LE: Should I be suggesting to SCL readers that they apply to be expert decision-makers? Does it pay well?

ET: We have a panel of about 40 decision makers and every so often we refresh the list so perhaps you should encourage people to apply. The feedback I get is to the effect that the disputes are very interesting and I think it is that that drives the decision makers rather than the remuneration.

LE: You mentioned the secondary market earlier. What is the ‘secondary market’ in this context?

ET: The market has now developed so that there are a number of people making a business of selling domains. These are people operating, entirely legitimately, buying up innocent but valuable domain names that they can see have commercial potential. They certainly became involved in lobbying for changes to the DRS and we had to clarify where the DRS stood in relation to the secondary market.

LE: Is that the major change in the Nominet world in the time since you began working there?

ET: Nominet has changed quite a lot. It is a members’ organisation and the industry has always been its owner. We had 100 members in 1996 and it was as if everyone knew each other. Nobody predicted the explosion that we have had since then – the recent Byron review referred to a £130 billion industry. Now we have 3,000 members and 7 million registrations but a much lower level of engagement. The fact that the secondary market is getting more involved now is a positive and helps us respond as we should because we are still a members’ organisation. I certainly try and encourage people to be involved.

LE: Well, you certainly follow your own advice about being involved. Your work with the Internet Governance Forum must demand a lot from you. But before we turn to that, I wanted to ask you about cybersquatting. Is it dead as a threat?

ET: Cybersquatting has changed in response to the market. The classic One in a Million type of case very rarely arises now. The market has got more sophisticated but there are still threats to registrations of a similar nature. Because of Google ads and pay per click, if you obtain a registration for a premium domain name you no longer need to approach the ‘target’ and offer it for sale. You can make quite substantial sums through click-throughs – so it is not 1 to 1 it is 1 to many.
One upshot of that of interest to your readers is that the lawyers have realised that cybersquatters are no longer men of straw and can be quite deep-pocketed defendants. So there are a number of examples where, for example, trade mark owners have moved away from the DRS to claiming in court.

That threat has eased and changed its nature but another threat that I would like to raise awareness on relates to renewals. Although there is a 70% renewal rate, people too often let their renewals slip – perhaps because they are unhappy with their registrar but for a whole variety of reasons. They can end up going through a DRS and see substantial brand erosion in the period of any dispute because premium domain names that slip out of registration are reregistered, sometimes within 1 second of being freed. There are some clever programs out there that can identify suspended domain names by batches so you really cannot afford to neglect renewal. Don’t drop your registrar and try and reregister yourself. If you cannot resolve issues with your current registrar, go to a new registrar and they will sort out your renewal and transfers. We at Nominet will provide back up.

LE: What made you devote all the time and energy that is needed for your work on the Internet Governance Forum?

ET: I care about the main issue – bringing the benefits of the Internet to everybody, and of course that means the poor of the world too. I was also really honoured to be asked. But the main drive is the belief that we in the UK really do have something special to offer.
The IGF was created out of a bad-tempered summit in 2003 and the main focus on its activities was the row over the future of ICANN, where arguments with the USA over control dragged on for years. That dispute was hugely damaging for the IGF but it really is not like that any more. What interests people now are the big issues about low cost access and best practice. There are 5 billion people who are not yet online and the IGF offers real opportunities to make a difference to them. If we can open up the Internet to them and make sure that best practice on issues like security, freedom of expression, disability access and the protection of children is endorsed by their providers we will have achieved a great deal.
The challenges in Africa are particularly compelling. There are some very positive signs and there is the potential to leapfrog the old technologies with all terrain technology that will work there. But there are language issues and cultural issues that have to be addressed. Who would want to use the Internet if there was no material available in their own language? But the cost of creating content is low and I am confident that entrepreneurs in developing countries will exploit the opportunities and that we will see growth mirroring the explosion we have seen in the developed world.
One highlight of my involvement has been the Best Practice Challenge, a competition sponsored by the UK IGF and attracting a very high calibre level of entries. We are just coming up to the awards on 9 July – there are a range of entries covering copyright protection, Internet well being and generally aimed at raising standards in the industry. It is too late to enter 2008 but I do encourage entries for the 2009 Challenge. We look for innovative initiatives which successfully address the key IGF themes of security, access, diversity and openness.

LE: What does the UK get from involvement with the IGF?

ET: We benefit by virtue of what we bring to it. I mentioned the fact that I believe that we have something special to offer. One of the things we are really good at is keeping in touch with end-users and handling a multi-stakeholder process. The IGF needs its policy debates to be evidence based and I think we excel at creating processes and an atmosphere that fosters such debate. By bringing our skills in these areas to the IGF, we can influence the IGF for the better. There are a lot of countries that are not so comfortable with a ‘bottom up’ approach and lean towards a ‘command and control’ approach. We need to encourage freedoms and the lack of barriers and it is important to be a voice at the table that will actually be listened to.

LE: You are saying ‘we’ but technically you are a representative on the IGF Advisory Group as an individual.

ET: Well, it’s not the royal ‘we’. It is very much a team effort. Not only do I work closely with BERR, parliamentarians like Alun Michael MP (who are themselves very closely in touch with users) and others in the UK, but also with representatives from other countries. For example, I will be working with France, Finland and Brazil in presenting a best practice workshop at the next IGF meeting in Hyderabad in December.
And I am looking for more input from those interested in the UK. The UK Internet Governance Forum will be holding an open meeting on 11 July, at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London. That meeting will focus on issues of importance to UK stakeholders, and will start to formulate messages from the UK which can be brought to the Hyderabad meeting. The 11 July meeting is open to all and details are on our Web site.

LE: I will certainly encourage people to attend. Thank you so much for your time.