Uniting Scottish Businesses With Their Internet Domains

April 30, 2002

The Internet has provided businesses with a medium for communicating to a worldwide audience. The problem with this platform however is the sheer volume of information that is presented to users which means that corporate messages are often lost. One way around this is to refine points of reference such as domain names. By carefully including as much information as possible about the organisation within its domain name the company can allow potential customers instantly to know its domicile and identity.

Scottish industry has long since traded on the positive perceptions associated with its heritage for promotional activity. This has led to companies and individuals scrambling to use the .sc domain name. Unfortunately the race to register the best names, using the new .sc domain has left many people faced with the realisation that an .sc name does not correlate with their Highland credentials.

The suffix .sc is in fact registered to the Seychelles, which means that, rather than helping businesses to create a Scottish identity on the Internet, it’s helping the Seychelles to cash in on its surplus of domain names. There’s nothing illegal about Scottish companies using .sc domain names, but it can cause confusion especially when the organisation and the Web site originate from Scotland and the rest of the world believes it is from the Seychelles.

A simple search on the Web is all that is required to form the conclusion that the more popular .com and .co.uk domain names are oversubscribed. But small countries, like the Seychelles where the population is less than 80,000 have a surplus of domain names and it’s not alone in taking advantage. The tiny pacific island of Tuvalu earned more than £35m for leasing its .tv domain, and other countries including Micronesia (.fm) and Antigua (.ag – the German equivalent of plc) have also successfully capitalised on their domain names. Unlike the Seychelles, each of these names were utilised by a specific industry, rather than by another country.

The Problem with Foreign Domain Names

There are legal issues that must be faced by a company considering using a Seychelles domain name, or any other foreign domain name. Although a company may be registered in Scotland and have Scottish-based offices, if a company uses a Web site registered with a Seychelles domain name, its Web site is allocated and governed by the Seychelles Internet Registry. As this body is also responsible for allocating names as well as resolving disputes, prior to registration, organisations should make a legal assessment of:

  • the content of the site and whether it is in contravention of any indigenous advertising laws
  • data protection law – if the business is using a server based outside the European Economic Area, it needs to ensure that the hosting company has adequate security measures in place to protect the personal data
  • local trading laws and how these fit with the Distance Selling Regulations
  • any applicable consumer protection laws and whether these contradict UK law in this area
  • whether choice of law clauses are recognised
  • the misleading nature of the domain name
  • any legal benefits.

A Simple Solution

Perhaps one of the simplest remedies to this problem would be to grant Scotland its own domain name. After all, other areas of the British Isles, including the Isle of Man (.im) and Jersey (.je), have been granted independent domain names.

Scotland’s attempts to create its own domain name have so far been thwarted. Plans to introduce a .sco.uk domain name last year were turned down by Nominet, responsible for registering domain names in the UK, and also failed to receive the backing of the Scottish Executive, who viewed the move as being too nationalistic. The Scottish Executive has now gone on to purchase four new names – scotland.org.sc, scotland.net.sc and scottishexecutive.sc.

Despite the wide range of domain name possibilities available to businesses in the UK, the vast majority still seemingly prefer to use either .com or .co.uk – and often it’s the first guess people make when trying to find a Web site.

Introducing not only a Scottish but English and Welsh identities too would help to free up some of the much-needed domain names as more businesses scramble for that all important Web address.

Emily Wiewiorka is Head of IT/IP Law and a Partner at Boyds Solicitors.