Australia’s New Domain Names Rules At a Glance

13 05 2021

Australia’s domain name rules[1] are in for their biggest shake up in 20 years after the consolidation of over 30 policies into a single set of licensing rules for .au domain names. Due to take effect on 12 April 2021, these licensing rules will usher in important changes for legal practitioners and businesses alike.

Australia’s New Domain Names Rules may adversely impact overseas trademark owners and applicants and impose unnecessary risks and restrictions on Australian companies. For instance, the renting, leasing, and sub-licencing of domain names is prohibited.

Australia’s New Domain Names Rules also encompass procedural changes:

  • auDA has broader powers to cancel and suspend domain names, and
  • while auDRP remains unchanged, the complaints process will soon feature several steps with strict time limits.

Legal Basis

The legal basis for the application of Australia’s New Domain Names Rules is based on contract, between the domain name registrant and auDA.


The new rules come into effect on 12 April 2021 at 00.00 UTC[2] (or 11am AEST). The Registry platform operates on UTC time, necessitating its use.

The transitional provisions[3] specify that where a domain name is registered or renewed prior to the commencement of the new rules, the domain name is subject to the existing policies until such time as it is renewed.


According to Clause 2.4, to register a or domain name, the Person applying must be a commercial entity and the domain name must be:

  • a match of the Person’s company, business, statutory or Personal name;
  • an acronym of the Person’s company, business, statutory or Personal name;
  • a match of the Person’s Australian Trade Mark;
  • a match to or an acronym of a name of a related body corporate;
  • a match or an acronym of a name of: (i) a partnership of which the Person is a partner; (ii) a trust of which the Person is a trustee; or
  • a match or synonym of the name of: (i) a service that the Person provides; (ii) goods that the Person sells (whether retail or wholesale); (iii) an event that the Person registers or sponsors; (iv) an activity that the Person facilitates, teaches or trains; (v) premises which the Person operates and which that Person is providing at the time of the application[4].

A very significant change is the inclusion of clause 2.4.5 which states the eligibility above “…does not apply where a Person has established an Australian presence by relying on an Australian Trade Mark, the domain name must be an exact match to the words which are the subject matter of the Australian Trade Mark”.

This means that overseas trademark owners can no longer own multiple domain names based on a single Australian trademark. For instance XYZ Shoes LLC holding a trademark registration (or being the applicant of) “XYZ Shoes” cannot register or

For the thousands of companies that have built their businesses—over the course of years—on domains such as, this change could cripple their operations. This may also pose issues for franchise systems or licensors who do not have an Australian presence. As such, effected trademark owners should look at renewing their domain names for the maximum 5-year period prior to the implementation of the new rules on 12 April 2021.

New Extensions

The new rules make provision for new .au extensions (such as and internationalised domain names (IDNs) such as 例.au (in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic and Vietnamese characters). However, these provisions will not come into operation until a future date[5].


In simple terms a sub-domain is the extension of a domain name with the addition of a number, character, or word before a domain name, for instance Sub-domains are often used by franchises to identify a branch office (such as, or a service (such as

The use of subdomains was not previously regulated. Under the new rules, subdomains will now be governed by the Australian presence test and the eligibility criteria that apply to the primary domain name (and other restrictions on the sale or leasing of a subdomain)[6]. Failure to comply with these rules may lead to suspension or cancellation of the domain name. This poses increased risks for businesses that use subdomains.

Third Party Use

Domain name rental, leasing and sub-licensing is not currently prohibited. However, under the new rules these kinds of arrangements are expressly prohibited, unless the arrangement is with a related body corporate[7] that has an Australian presence[8].

These restrictions are likely to cause issues for franchisors and license systems—a lease or sublicence to a franchisee (who is not a related body corporate) is now prohibited.

Prohibited Uses and Public Interest

The new rules expressly prohibit the of use of a domain name to facilitate conduct that is illegal, unlawful or fraudulent under Australian law. In addition to this restriction, auDA will cancel a domain name licence where:

  1. the registrant of the domain is convicted of a criminal offence under an Australian law; and
  2. the licence using that domain name was instrumental in committing the offence[9].

These provisions could have serious implications. For instance, if a sole trader used his or her email address to stalk or harass someone and was convicted of an offence[10], that business may lose its domain name[11].

Upon the request of an enforcement body[12] or intelligence agency[13], the public interest test enables auDA to to suspend or cancel a domain name licence. auDA may suspend or cancel a licence if it believes—on reasonable grounds—that the action is in the public interest, and it satisfies one or more public interest objectives, including proper administration of government, public health and safety, national security, and the prevention and detection of crime and fraud.

Previously, auDA did not have the express right to suspend or cancel a domain even where it was being used for criminal behaviour (such as phishing), in the absence of establishing breaches of existing policies.

Domain Name Transfers

The new rules impose a 28-day deadline in which to transfer a domain name under a contract or agreement, such as a business sale agreement, unless such contract or agreement specifies otherwise[14]. A failure to comply with this provision “will result in the cancellation of the licence”[15].


Under Part 3 of Australia’s New Domain Names Rules, the obligation of complaint investigation has been passed from auDA to the Registrars on record[16]. Registrars have 30 days to resolve a complaint, unless it cannot be resolved within that time frame. Complaints are typically around the registrant’s non-compliance with auDA policy.

The complaints process now works as follows:

ComplaintResponsible PartyTimeframe for action
Initial complaintRegistrar on Record   
Review of Registrar decisionauDA    5 calendar days of decision[17]
Review of auDA decisionSenior auDA Officer (not involved in original review)  48 hours from time decision made and communicated[18]
Review of auDA decisionLicence Review Panel (currently composed of qualified persons such as barristers who serve a 3 year term)  10 calendar days after decision made[19]
General ReviewA Court of competent jurisdictionBefore decision is implemented[20]

It is important to note that each stage of review has strict time limits.


Given the scope and scale of Australia’s New Domain Names Rules, it is recommended to:

  • Review the registrant, user and use of domain names to ensure compliance with new rules, including Australian presence and prohibitions such as sub-licensing.
  • Review domain name registrations that rely upon trademarks or trademark applications held by foreign entities and take action to protect domain names that may be impacted new restrictions.
  • When dealing with complaints be mindful of strict deadlines for review of decisions.
  • When drafting agreements involving domain names be mindful of time for transfer.
  • Implement policies on use of domain names to avoid breaches of policy, particularly with respect to usage restrictions.
  • Where possible, consider renewing domain names under the current policies for the maximum period of 5 years, to take advantage of the transitional arrangements.

Article first published in the Internet Law Bulletin by Lexis Nexis

By Erhan Karabardak, Cooper Mills Lawyers and Director Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Association

[1] The new rules are available here

[2] See clause 1.2.1

[3] See clause 4.3

[4] See clause 2.4.4

[5] See clause 2.8

[6] See clause 2.11.9 and 2.11.10

[7] As defined by s50 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)

[8] See clause 2.11.11

[9] See clause 2.11.17

[10] An example may be use of a carriage service under s474.17 of the Criminal Code (Cth)

[11] This position is at odds with page 31 of auDA’s Explanatory Guide which states that auDA “will only cancel a licence where the judgment specifies that the license and its associated domain name were instrumental in the commission of the offence for which the person was convicted”.

[12] As defined under s6 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

[13] This covers six agencies and includes ASIO, ASIS, ASD and DIO

[14] See clause 2.13.4

[15] See clause 2.13.6

[16] This means the Registrar whose name is reflected in the Whois record of a domain name and does not include resellers.

[17] See clause 3.5.3 for cancellations, however, a longer period of 28 days applies for suspensions and other matters

[18] See clause 3.6.3

[19] See clause 3.8.4

[20] Depending on the decision made, urgent interlocutory relief may have to be sought to seek review before the implementation of a decision.

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