Niue is suing a giant Swedish foundation over a domain name
Only around 1,600 people live in Niue, which is around 2,400 kilometres north of New Zealand. (Flickr: FotoNut NZ)
The tiny country of Niue has taken one of Sweden’s biggest internet organisations to court, claiming millions of dollars worth of revenue was lost because its internet domain name was taken over without consent.
- “Nu” means “now” in Swedish, making it a popular domain in Scandinavian countries
- Niue’s economy is small and very fragile, experts warn
- Law suit still to be picked up by Stockholm District Court
In a lawsuit filed last week at the Stockholm District Court, lawyers acting on behalf of Niue’s Government are attempting to sue the Internet Foundation in Sweden for between $27 million and $37 million over what they argue is “unfair” use of the ‘.nu’ found at the end of websites.
The nation’s Premier, Toke Talagi, said Niue had missed out on millions of dollars worth of revenue because of a complicated licensing agreement over the domain.
In the early days of the internet, what is now the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) to nations — like .au in Australia, and .nu for Niue.
Par Brumark, the lawyer acting for Niue’s Government in the case, told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program they are arguing the Internet Foundation in Sweden (IIS), which is the current register for .nu, is using the domain unfairly.
“In their founding charter and statutes, it’s clearly stated they’re not allowed to administer any foreign national top-level domains. And they have, without consent from Niue, taken over,” said Mr Brumark, who is also the vice-chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ Governmental Advisory Committee.
“And of course, thereby [taking over] the profits from selling .nu domains all over the world, primarily in Europe.”
Free internet for domain management
The IIS is an independent organisation that is responsible for both the .nu domain and Sweden’s .se, and says it, “acts to ensure positive development of the internet”.
It became the register for .nu in 2013, after signing a deal with the current manager, which is the IUSN Foundation, a US-based organisation.
“The Swedish Internet foundation has done the necessary investigations before deciding to become the registry in 2013, involving several leading legal specialists and a direct contact with the relevant governmental institutions,” the IIS told Pacific Beat.
The IUSN took control of .nu in 2003, as part of a deal where its affiliates promised the tiny island of 1,600 people free wireless internet in exchange for managing the domain.
“They came, convinced the Government at the time … that they will give us free internet … and we would sign it away to them to manage,” Mr Talagi told Pacific Beat.
“We clearly, on our part, we were clueless to what the value of those things were at the time … the internet services were limited, they were slow, they were pretty much useless.”
‘Quite a lot of money’ to be made from lucrative domains
People, businesses and even countries can make millions of dollars from selling, or licencing website and domain names — Niue’s Pacific neighbour Tuvalu has raked in millions by licencing companies the right to use .tv in their domain names.
In 1998, an American start-up known as DotTV paid Tuvalu $67 million over 12 years for the right to sell .tv to other companies.
Because ‘nu’ means ‘now’ in a lot of Northern European languages, it is a popular domain for Scandinavian websites.
The IIS told Pacific Beat that in 2013, 66.7 per cent of the active domains were registered by Swedish users, and according to their website, there are currently around 400,000 .nu domains under their management.
Mr Brumark and Niue’s Government estimate the revenue from those is valued between $27 million and $37 million since 2013.
‘Economy is very fragile’
Niue is about 2,400 kilometres north of New Zealand and is made up of one coral atoll that is only about 260 square kilometres in size.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade described Niue’s economy as very fragile and said it faced many constraints, with the nation dependent on imported fuel and food.
People, businesses and even countries can make millions of dollars from selling, or licencing website and domain names. (Nic MacBean, file photo: ABC News)
The law suit is still to be picked up by the Stockholm District Court, but if it is, Niue will argue it is entitled to all the revenue the IIS had made from being the registry.
In a statement, the IIS said, “The case is not about the ownership of .nu” and that that was an issue between the Government of Niue and the IUSN foundation.
The IIS said, “It was and is essential for the Swedish internet infrastructure that .nu works in a stable and secure way”.
Mr Brumark said action would likely be taken against the IUSN at a later date, but, “We have to solve this first”.