How the new org.au domain registration changes could affect you

NewsCategory
9 min read
Rananda Rich

You may have heard that Australia’s country-code domain names are managed by auDA (.au Domain Administration Ltd). This Australian organisation develops and administers the rules around the registration of all .au domains.

On 12 April 2021, auDA changed its rules and requirements for .au registrations.

This includes changes to subdomain requirements that could affect any website using an org.au web address. Such domains are widely used by not-for-profit (NFP), public service and charity organisations in Australia.

Below, we’ll discuss what these changes are and ways you can satisfy the new requirements.

What do the new org.au registration changes look like?

As of 12 April 2021, all new org.au domain name registrations must meet the criteria of Australian presence and eligibility. On renewal, they must meet the updated definition of at least one of the 11 categories of a not-for-profit organisation.

Once registered, an org.au domain name may not be leased or sold.

The new rule changes are designed to keep all .au registrations local to Australia, giving additional confidence to website visitors. This will help ensure that org.au websites are Australian-based and legitimate not-for-profit organisations.

Those impacted the most by the new rules for org.au subdomains, include:

  • Non-Australian entities holding org.au domains
  • Unincorporated associations
  • Some not-for-profit (NFP) organisations newly included in the NFP definition
  • NFP entities who want to register, renew or transfer org.au domains

Later in this article, we’ll discuss what to do if you are affected by these new rule changes. But first, let’s review why these changes are happening in the first place.

Why the change?

According to the auDA, subdomains are useful for specifying and identifying activities or services, but can also be subject to misuse or abuse. For this reason, the requirements for registering an org.au subdomain and other .au subdomains in Australia have been tightened.

By making the rules clearer and more specific, auDA is better able to regulate breaches. While auDA is keen to give every registrant the opportunity to rectify any issues or complaints, they can also suspend any domain name until the matter is sorted out.

Tightening up the rules and improving enforcement measures helps keep .au local and trusted.

As a result, website visitors can feel confident they are visiting Australian-based organisations. They can also rest easy knowing that org.au websites represent genuine NFP organisations.

Cook next to industrial size pots full of food

Because of this increased trust and clarity, NFP organisations using the org.au domain are likely to benefit from it -- especially when it comes to online fund-raising activities and credibility.

Conversely, this could have a negative impact for any group that no longer meets the org.au requirements. Their reputation could be impaired and they might need to rework their communications efforts, if not resolved immediately.

How do I know if the changes apply to me?

You can continue to licence .au domains if you are a:

  • Business
  • Registered body
  • Charity with an ABN, ARBN or CAN

The reason for this is because you already meet the criteria of Australian presence and eligibility. However, the new auDA rule changes may impact which .au subdomains you are permitted to use. This also includes the org.au subdomain.

The domain registration rules are also likely to affect foreign entities who:

  1. Previously qualified for a org.au domain by holding an Australian Trademark
  2. Have no other presence in Australia, i.e., are not based or registered in Australia

If you previously qualified for an org.au subdomain by holding an Australian Trademark, your trademark and domain name must now match exactly. Check for things like articles, punctuation and more. If they don’t match, the new rule changes will affect you.

If you are an Australian unincorporated association, you are no longer eligible to hold an org.au subdomain unless you are on the Australian Charities and NFP Commission’s (ACNC) Register of Charities. All Australian NFPs need to make sure they fit into one of the 11 updated NFP category definitions to qualify.

What should I do if I’m affected by the org.au domain registration rule changes?

Group of volunteers packing boxes for a non-profit organisation

If you are a foreign entity or an Australian unincorporated association, you’ll need to understand your options for meeting the new requirements. Below, we list the steps you need to take to fit within the new guidelines. We’ll also look at NFP organisations and note any new changes there.

Foreign entities

If a foreign entity’s trademark and domain name do not match exactly, you will need to find another way to meet the Australian presence and eligibility criteria.

One option is to transfer your Trademark to an entity that does meet the Australian presence and eligibility criteria. Unless the Trademark matches the domain exactly, a foreign entity is ineligible to hold a .au domain name after 12 April 2021.

Next steps:

  1. Check you meet the Australia presence and eligibility criteria.
  2. If you have one, check that your Australian Trademark and domain name are exact matches.
  3. If you have neither #1 nor #2, establish an Australian entity and transfer your Trademark to it before 12 April 2021.
  4. Register your .au domain through your Australian entity if your trademark doesn’t match or you don’t have a trademark.
  5. For org.au domains, ensure your entity meets the definition of one of the 11 categories of NFP organisations.

Make sure you consider all options and double-check the requirements to check your eligibility.

Australian unincorporated associations

If you are an Australian unincorporated association, you may still qualify for an org.au domain. Check that you meet the definition of one of the updated 11 categories of NFPs to improve your chances.

If you do not meet one of these definitions, you can try registering for the same name under an asn.au subdomain. In this context, ‘asn’ is short for association. The sooner you action this, the better you can find the best available domain name to re-register with.

Let’s assume you already meet the new Australian presence and eligibility requirements. In this case, your current org.au registration will continue until it expires. Until your current org.au registration expires, the rules before the April 2021 changes still apply. Upon renewal, the new licencing rules come into effect.

Next steps:

  1. Determine whether your association meets one of the 11 NFP category definitions.
  2.  If yes, you can renew as an org.au.
  3. If no, you can investigate alternative domain extensions such as asn.au — learn about your options here.
  4. If having an org.au domain is important for your organisation, you may need to consider changing the structure. For instance, you can incorporate your association to meet the updated NFP definitions.

Make sure you assess the short and long-term efforts and implications of each option, based on your resources and capabilities. The administration, public perception and costs can vary depending on what you choose.

Not-for-profit organisations

If you already have an Australian presence, eligibility and fit into one of the 11 categories of eligible NFP organisations, you don’t need to do much except continue to renew your domain name.

Note that 4 new types of organisations are now able to register for org.au domains, including:

  • Indigenous corporations
  • Cooperatives
  • Registered state and territory political parties
  • Government statutory agencies

If you are eligible for org.au domains, the possible names you can register for your domain are broadening under the new rules.

Related: 10 tips for choosing the perfect domain name

Some quick reminders about domains

There is no concept of ownership in the Domain Name System. Domain names are licenced for defined periods of time and under agreed terms and conditions. In Australia, most domain names with the .au extension are subject to the Domain Name Eligibility and Allocation Policy Rules.

Yellow sticky notes on desk with keyboard and earphones nearby

Note that closed extensions such as edu.au and gov.au have defined communities of interest and are not available to the general public.

Key definitions for reference

If you need a quick refresher on domain terminology, refer to the list below to help clarify any questions you may have.

  • Top Level Domain (TLD): These describe the last part of a website address, also known as the domain extension. Website endings like .com, .net, and .org are all examples of TLDs.
  • Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs): These are designated two letter codes assigned by the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) to countries, territories and sovereign states. The Australian ccTLD is .au and is overseen by auDA.
  • Second level domains (2LDs): This describes the part of the website name next to the TLD or website extension. For example, within org.au or net.au, the ‘org’ and ‘net’ portions of the web extensions are the second level domain. They are sometimes described as the subdomains of the two-letter .au ccTLD assigned to Australia.
  • Third level domains (3LDSs): All domains registered in Australia with the .au extension are third level domains, because they will have at least three components to their domain name such as example.org.au or example.com.au.

Memorizing these terms will give you a leg-up when navigating the different guidelines and eligibility standards for domain registration.

The difference between org.au and other .au subdomains

Org.au is one of many second level domains such as com.au, edu.au, net.au. Each 2LD has a purpose which determines who is eligible for the 2LD and what the rules are for that 2LD.

Different .au subdomains have different eligibility and allocation rules.

Examples include the com.au subdomain, used for commercial entities, or the id.au subdomain allocated to individuals.

Going forward, registering an org.au subdomain will only be possible by Australian NFP organisations who meet one of the 11 NFP category definitions.

Final takeaways to help you navigate the new domain updates

If you are a foreign entity that licences an org.au domain, it is vital to check if you are eligible to continue to hold an org.au licence after April 2021. If you are in any doubt, you’ll need to take urgent steps to review and update your eligibility.

Australian unincorporated associations with org.au domains have until the end of your current licence expiration date. After this, you can decide what action you want to take.

If you no longer meet the org.au requirements, you have the option to either incorporate or transition to a different subdomain where you meet the requirements.

Many Australian NFP organisations won’t be affected by these rule changes, as long as you meet the updated defined categories. If you do, you’ll also have a broader set of options for names that you can register as org.au associated with your NFP organisation.