When Force Majeure Happens to Customers
EnCirca is a small registrar. But we still have customers from 222 different countries. Wars, floods and earthquakes are regular occurrences that can impact our customers.
The recent Gmail blockage in China led us to check how many of our China-based customers were using Gmail. Although, the outage appears to have been resolved for now, if it recurs, it could have severe repercussions for domain name registrants. Email verifications, renewal notices, transfer confirmations all could all be missed. If the Gmail blockage in China continued, it would certainly qualify as an extraordinary event beyond the control of the registrant. Of course, the recent events may cause many China-based registrants to change their email address.
ICANN Registrar, like most companies have standards terms in their end-user agreements that are referred to as “Force Majeure”. Force Majeure “essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term act of God (such as hurricane, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc.), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract. In practice, most force majeure clauses do not excuse a party’s non-performance entirely, but only suspends it for the duration of the force majeure” (Wikipedia).
For domain names, the protection basically extends to Registrars and Registries. There really isn’t any protection for the registrant.
Consider these actual examples experience by EnCirca customers:
1. Remember the 2011 Tsunami that hit Japan? 16 thousand dead, thousands displaced. We had several customers based in the affected area with active websites. The underlying domains started to expire and our efforts to reach them proved fruitless. We renewed the names for them but several of them remain unclaimed several years later
2. An American client with a large portfolio of names was not renewing his names. We received a frantic call from his parents informing us that their son was in a coma. They knew little about domain names and asked for help. The customer emerged from his coma several months later and was happy to see his portfolio was intact.
Registrars are not always able to connect recent events with expiring domains. No doubt, many domains expire due to the registrant simply losing their connectivity. Is this an issue that needs addressing?
Is it time that the industry offered domain name insurance? I’m not talking about insuring against stolen names, legal disputes or lost revenue. Eligibility would be limited to registrants living in officially declared disaster areas. ICANN could be assigned the responsibility of alerting registrars and registries of these events. Perhaps ICANN could even fund the insurance from their $0.18/domain fees?