Benefits to keeping Whois open

Benefits to keeping Whois open

Domain name owners benefit when their Whois records are publicly available.

The world’s largest domain name registrar is going to keep publishing Whois data for the bulk of its customers despite GDPR. This is good news for many people who rely on the data. I understand that security researchers will be upset that the data won’t be available in bulk. But even the individual lookups will help people–including the domain name owners themselves.

Here are some ways that Whois helps domain name owners:

1. Fewer UDRPs and lawsuits

I expect there to be an increase in UDRP filings thanks to redacted Whois information. Currently, UDRP complainants are able to research the owner of a domain name based on the Whois. This allows them to think twice about filing a UDRP if a) the owner is someone who commonly defeats UDRPs, such as Frank Schilling or b) it’s clear from the Whois record that the owner has a legitimate interest, such as if their name or company name matches the domain.

True, some complainants file cases even in these circumstances. But going forward they will have to file blind “John Doe” cases. They won’t always know who owns the domain until the response is filed.

Some complainants will back out at this point, but many will go forward.

It would be nice if the UDRP providers add an interim step to the filing process. The complainant could say it’s making a filing and pay the fee. At this point, they will find out the identity of the domain owner from the registrar. If they withdraw the case at this point they get most of their money back.

Also, escalation to UDRP and the courts will happen faster. Right now, intellectual property owners typically start by sending a cease & desist letter when they believe a domain is infringing on their trademark. They escalate this to a UDRP and/or a lawsuit if they can’t resolve the matter.

Whois records that don’t contain a forwarding email address have no good way for lawyers to contact domain owners. So they’ll either decide it’s not worth pursuing or will move straight to the UDRP/lawsuit stage. That’s bad for everyone when a simple email could resolve the issue.

In fact, UDRP panelists sometimes site a lack of pre-dispute communication from a complainant as a sign of bad faith.

2. More domain sales

People tend to buy existing domain names in three ways: through a marketplace listing (sometimes syndicated), through a link or contact form on a parked page, or by looking up the owner in Whois. Most of my bigger deals have come through the latter.

It’s probable that redacted Whois records will drive more sales to marketplace listings and parked pages, but taking any option off the table adds friction to the process.

3. Fewer stale marketplace listings

Domain name marketplaces scan Whois to look for changes in ownership and are sometimes proactive about removing domain names no longer owned by the lister. A lack of public Whois will lead to more stale listings on marketplaces that are not listed by the actual owner.