UK: 'WhoIs' The Infringer? Tracking Down A Domain Registrant In A Post-GDPR World.

Last Updated: 2 July 2019
Article by Thalya Merican

Just over one year since the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR), and the scrutiny by supervisory authorities across Europe is in full swing as they shape their powers with investigations and penalties to meet national appetite towards data protection compliance. While the GDPR continues to fulfil its intentions of protecting the privacy of individuals, a lesser-known impact has been on brand owners who face additional hurdles in tackling website and domain name infringements.

Identifying the registrant is an inevitable starting point in any online enforcement action. Quite often, this leads to new strands of enquiry, unearthing other activities of the registrant that may support a brand owner’s claim of infringement, including discovering other domain names or websites that could cause concern. More importantly, stern letters with a threat of proceedings can be directly addressed to registrants and this remains the most cost effective option to provide rapid relief.

Prior to the GDPR, a crucial investigative step for a brand owner systematically involved consulting the WhoIs database to obtain publically available details such as the name of the registrant of the domain name in question, and their contact details. Post-GDPR, the masking of registrant details on the WhoIs database has naturally impeded on a brand owner’s ability to rapidly respond to online infringements.

The aim of this note is to consider self-help options available to brand owners in a post-GDPR world, where the details of the registrant of a website or domain name are less readily available.

Now what?

A majority of the redaction has resulted from ICANN’s (the registry managing ‘generic’ top-level domain names or ‘gTLDs’ such as .com, .net and .org) response to the GDPR, involving a blanket redaction of all registrant details irrespective of whether they are legal or natural persons. ICANN is currently in consultation for the development of a Unified Access Model for non-public WhoIs data aimed at law enforcement and intellectual property rights holders. But until this is finalised, registrant information for gTLDs will continue to be limited.

Having said this, brand owners should bear in mind that although there has been a substantial stripping of publically available WhoIs data, not all registries have applied the same approach as ICANN towards their compliance with the GDPR. Approaches towards collection, redaction and disclosure of a registrant’s details will vary between registries, especially between those that manage territory-specific domain names (like .fr or .eu, known in tech-jargon as ‘country-code top-level domains’ or ‘ccTLDs’).

ccTLD registries are bound by domestic legislation that may mandate the disclosure of the registrant’s details, thereby providing a lawful basis under the GDPR for publication of those details. A clear example of this is the Danish Act on Internet Domains under which the Danish registry, DK Hostmaster, is obliged to maintain a public WhoIs database for registrants of the .dk ccTLD 1. By comparison, in absence of any express UK legislation for disclosure, the UK registry Nominet (.uk) has taken the approach of relying on the registrant’s consent provided to the registrar under article 6(1)(a) of the GDPR 2 to publish their details on WhoIs. It is therefore still worth conducting a search against the WhoIs database as some registrant details may still be available post-GDPR.

Where a brand owner comes across domain names that no longer have registrant details publically available, some creativity and sleuthing skills will need to be applied. These include:

  1. Investigating the website associated to the domain name for contact details (which, if any services are directed at European consumers, must be available on the website in accordance with Article 5 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002).
  2. Consulting historic WhoIs data and historic snapshots of websites.
  3. Contacting the engaged registrar, whose details may be more readily available on the WhoIs database, to seek disclosure of the registrant’s details (although in the absence of a court order compelling disclosure, this is rarely fruitful).
  4. Considering whether the registry managing the domain name provides a ‘data release’ procedure under which a request may be made to obtain a registrant’s details. For example, the .uk registry Nominet has published their policy here.
  5. Investigating whether the registry in question provides for any other grounds for cancelling or transferring a domain name under their terms and conditions or policies. For instance, providing inaccurate information about the registrant (as the case may be for websites looking to hide behind false identities) may be a breach of a registry’s terms and conditions.
  6. Using, where available, an anonymised email address or web-based contact form that a registrar makes available for direct correspondence with registrants.
  7. If a website is being used to sell infringing goods, conducting a “test purchase” of a sample item for the purpose of inspecting any accompanying packaging or paperwork. If a telephone number is provided, one possibility is then to try to obtain a “returns address” to be used for correspondence purposes.

It is difficult to be certain which of the above routes will achieve the quickest result. A combination of the above may need to be undertaken, and with enough perseverance, somewhere, someone or something will hopefully reveal the registrant.

Domain Name Dispute Resolution Services

A further option where a trade mark is used in an offending domain name itself would be to consider making use of the relevant registry’s dispute resolution services.

The most widely used dispute resolution service is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) adopted by ICANN and 40 other ccTLD registries 3. An advantage of UDRP complaints is that these can be filed and accepted without registrant details. Subject to a filing fee (which starts at $1,500), UDRP complaints may prove to be a more suitable solution where brand owners simply seek to take down a website by cancelling or transferring a domain name.

A further advantage of the UDRP process is that registrars are required to provide registrant information to the UDRP provider, which is then transmitted to the complainant. A brand owner’s resources may, therefore, be put to better use on filing a UDRP complaint than independently pursuing registrant details. Furthermore, where a dispute is referred to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) (the most active provider of domain name dispute services), complainants are entitled to a partial refund of the filing fees if the complaint is withdrawn early enough in the process, which can be a cost-cutting strategy in itself 4.

Roughly 20% of cases at the WIPO settle before a panel is appointed 5, and in March 2019, WIPO reported that domain name complaint filings had increased by 12% in 2018 6. This suggests that brand owners are flocking towards the UDRP process as a viable alternative, and potentially only to use the process to obtain registrant details to engage in informal enforcement tactics.

Registries who have not adopted the UDRP Policy, will have their own dispute resolution service, although these are subject to different rules, fee structures and, even more frustrating, may require the elusive registrant’s details. On a positive note, these registries can often be cooperative in releasing registrant data for no fee. By way of example, the UK Registry Nominet has adopted a policy which expressly states that a request made by a rights holder requiring registrant data “so that they can be included in a Dispute Resolution Service complaint” will be a legitimate request 7.

However, an important limitation in using such dispute resolution services is that remedies are constrained to the transfer or cancellation of the infringing domain name. Furthermore, the domain disputes process alone may not be a deterrent to infringers who can subsequently register other infringing domain names (such as typo-squatting), forcing brand owners to deal with a “whack-a-mole”-like problem. A brand owner seeking more appropriate remedies such as damages, a substantial costs award or an injunction will therefore still need to issue formal court proceedings.


The GDPR and lack of harmonisation between registrars and registries have contributed to a less friendly environment for enforcement of intellectual property rights online.

Although some ccTLD registries maintain public records or have provided some guidance for access to registrant details, the persisting popularity of gTLDs among businesses (of which 133.9 million .com domains alone were registered as of 31 March 2018), is such that a brand owner is now far more likely to face issues arising from hidden registrant details. This article has explored some of the investigative steps and processes which can be adopted and there is some hope that the position could revert back to something closer to a pre-GDPR world as discussions are ongoing around a ‘Unified Access Model’. The aim here will be to balance the interests of protecting an individual’s personal data and the interests of combatting intellectual property infringement.

However, until then, brand owners will need to accept that obtaining registrant details will be slightly more… domain-ding.





4 Para 5(c)




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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions