Uniregistry buys '.hiv' at auction in 'surprising' move


The ‘.hiv’ generic top-level domain (gTLD) registry was put up for auction earlier this year. This was the second new gTLD registry to go to auction with live domain name registrations under management. ‘.hiv’ is a charitable gTLD that had been set up to raise awareness of HIV and to raise funds to support various initiatives to combat HIV and AIDS with a view to eradicating them. As such, its sale posed some potentially awkward questions for ICANN regarding the success and indeed relevance of the new gTLD programme, as this charitable gTLD was sold off to the highest bidder. It now transpires that the eventual purchaser of ‘.hiv’ is Uniregistry, a gTLD portfolio applicant which operates 25 gTLD registries.

The purchase of ‘.hiv’ by Uniregistry is somewhat surprising. The ‘.hiv’ Registry Agreement has an interesting public interest commitment which would appear to make it an unappealing prospect to a company such as Uniregistry. The public interest commitment states that:

"Registry operator commits to implementing and performing the following protections for the TLD: registry operator, as a social enterprise, is driven by its sole mission to support the global HIV response. Therefore, registry operator will reinvest all excess profits in projects serving this mission."

Uniregistry is in the business of selling domain names to make a profit and, as such, the acquisition of the ‘.hiv’ gTLD does not seem to fit in with the rest of its gTLD portfolio or indeed its business model in general. However, Uniregistry has given assurances that it will continue to operate the ‘.hiv’ gTLD as a "social enterprise" and thus will honour the undertakings set out in the public interest commitment.

There is however a caveat to this as Uniregistry has indicated that it will review the ‘.hiv’ gTLD in a year's time. The result of this review could well see a change to the operating model of ‘.hiv’ and see significant changes to how it is run. It will be interesting to see if Uniregistry will continue to honour the public interest commitment in the Registry Agreement.

David Taylor and Daniel Madden, Hogan Lovells LLP, Paris

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