What is a domain name?

A domain name is simply an address on the Internet which people can use to find resources like websites or send email. For example, 'bartier.com.au is a domain name which points to the Bartier Perry Lawyers' website.

In August 2021, auDA (the body that develops and administers the rules for domain names in the .au country code Top Level Domain) amended its licensing rules to create a new category of domain name. The shorter simpler domain names will end in .au rather than .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .gov.au or .edu.au

From 24 March 2022, anyone with a local connection to Australia (including businesses, associations and individuals) is able to register the new category of domain name. All Australian businesses have until 20 September 2022 to reserve their .au equivalent domain name, then it becomes available to the general public.

This new category of domain name allows users to register shorter, more memorable online names; however, it also creates another avenue for cyber squatters and competitors to conduct fraudulent activities. Opportunists could register your .au domain name to impersonate your business, cyber squat on the domain or direct web traffic from your business.

For example, if you have currently registered 'yourbusiness.com.au', someone could try and register 'yourbusiness.au' or 'yourbusinesscom.au' and use these domains to conduct fraudulent activities.

How to protect yourself

To help protect your business from opportunists, regulators recommend all Australian businesses with existing domain names register their .au equivalents before 20 September 2022. If a business does not reserve their .au equivalent direct domain name during this six-month period, that name will become available to the public on a first come, first served basis.

You can reserve your .au domain name by visiting an auDA accredited registrar.

The new domain name category – key points summarised

  • Shorter, simpler and more memorable .au direct domain names can now be registered for use (e.g. '.auda.au'), compared to namespaces ending in .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .gov.au or .edu.au;
  • The licensing rules provide new eligibility criteria for registering domain names in Australia and allows for existing domain name owners to apply for priority status, permitting them to 'hold' and register the exact same .au version of their existing domain names with an auDA accredited registrar until 20 September 2022 (this period is known as the 'Priority Allocation Period');
  • After 20 September 2022, .au domain names will become available to any other eligible registrants with an 'Australian presence' on a first come, first served basis;
  • If you have so far been unable to register a domain name due to availability, eligibility or otherwise, we recommend checking again post 20 September 2022.

Eligibility to register an '.au' domain name

The 'Australian presence' requirement can be met in a number of ways, with registrants having to meet 1 out of a possible 17 eligibility categories under auDA's licensing rules. Some examples include:

  • being an Australian citizen;
  • a company registered in Australia under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth);
  • an entity issued with an Australian Business Number (ABN); or
  • a Charity registered under State or Territory legislation and which appears on the State or Territory register of cooperatives.

Aside from the above examples, the easiest way to demonstrate the 'Australian presence' requirement is by way of holding a pending or registered Australian trademark that appears on IP Australia's trade mark database. The trademark will need to be an exact match of the words (i.e. the domain name) you wish to register. This means "the domain name must include all the words in the order in which they appear in the Australian Trademark, excluding:

  • DNS identifiers such as com.au;
  • punctuation marks such as an exclamation point or an apostrophe;
  • articles such as 'a', 'the', 'and 'or 'of'; and
  • ampersands.

For overseas entities who do not have a registered trademark or an application for a trademark it is worth determining if a trademark could be registered and making an application if they are seeking an .au domain name. There are also similar presence requirements required for existing .com.au and .net.au domain names can also satisfied with trademark registration.

Priority Allocation Period and disagreement between registrant applicants

In some instances, there is potential that more than one person or entity may be eligible to apply for priority status for the same reserved .au domain name. This can happen where different registrants hold the same name in different namespaces (auDA calls this a 'contested name').

For example, registrant Y owns 'yourbusiness.com.au', and Registrant Z own 'yourbusiness.net.au'. In such cases, the applicants' priority status is determined on the following basis:

  • Priority Category 1: Names created on or before the cut-off date of 4 February 2018; and
  • Priority Category 2: Names created after the cut-off date of 4 February 2018

If you need further clarity, auDA also has a Priority status tool available on its website.

Where there are multiple applications for a contested name, the following principles apply:

  • Category 1 applicants have priority over Category 2 applicants;
  • Where there are multiple Category 1 applications, the name is allocated on agreement/negotiation between the Category 1 applicants; and
  • Where there are only Category 2 applicants, the name is allocated to the applicant with the earliest creation date.

If there is a disagreement between multiple Category 1 applicants, the usual process is that those registrants negotiate between themselves who will be allocated the new .au domain name they have applied for. Where no agreement is reached the .au direct name remains subject to a Priority hold. For other domain name-related disputes, auDA also has its own Dispute Resolution Policy.

Register your new domain name now

If you have an existing .com.au or .net.au domain it makes sense to also obtain a direct .au domain as both a strategic and defensive move for your business. You can apply for priority status via a domain registrar, or any other accredited registrar that offers direct names. Fee for lodging applications vary between registrars. You will need to apply to auDA for a priority token for your application to be accepted. It is important to make sure your priority status application is up-to-date before you lodge your application, as you will be unable to change this whilst the application is active.

If you have any questions or require any assistance with trademark and domain name matters don't hesitate to get in touch.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.