Probably not, but it’s not as straightforward as other pricing rules.
Last month, I answered the question, “Can registries reclassify your domain as premium before renewal?”
For new top level domain names, registrars cannot change your already-registered domain from standard renewal pricing to premium pricing.
Some readers asked a follow-up question: can a registry move your domain from one premium tier to another?
The answer here is a bit murkier. Let’s take a look again at Section 2.1.c. of the Registry Agreement with ICANN:
(c) In addition, Registry Operator must have uniform pricing for renewals of domain name registrations (“Renewal Pricing”). For the purposes of determining Renewal Pricing, the price for each domain registration renewal must be identical to the price of all other domain name registration renewals in place at the time of such renewal, and such price must take into account universal application of any refunds, rebates, discounts, product tying or other programs in place at the time of renewal. The foregoing requirements of this Section 2.10(c) shall not apply for (i) purposes of determining Renewal Pricing if the registrar has provided Registry Operator with documentation that demonstrates that the applicable registrant expressly agreed in its registration agreement with registrar to higher Renewal Pricing at the time of the initial registration of the domain name following clear and conspicuous disclosure of such Renewal Pricing to such registrant, and (ii) discounted Renewal Pricing pursuant to a Qualified Marketing Program (as defined below). The parties acknowledge that the purpose of this Section 2.10(c) is to prohibit abusive and/or discriminatory Renewal Pricing practices imposed by Registry Operator without the written consent of the applicable registrant at the time of the initial registration of the domain and this Section 2.10(c) will be interpreted broadly to prohibit such practices.
When you register a premium domain name, you “expressly agreed in [the] registration agreement” that you will have to pay more than standard renewal rates to renew a domain.
Take the hypothetical domain domain.example. Let’s say the standard renewal fee is $10, but your premium domain is in the registry’s Premium Tier A bucket, which renews for $200 a year.
In this case, the registrar will charge you the $200 per year plus markup. And the registry could decide to increase the pricing in Tier A from $200 to, say, $300, provided it gives a 6-month notice to the registrars about this change. This is the same with standard-fee registrations. (Assuming the registrar lets you know ahead of time, this would allow you to renew for 10 years at current prices.)
I think there’s an assumption that you’ve agreed to the higher renewal price in that tier. But registries usually have multiple tiers of pricing for premiums. Could they move your domain from a Tier A $200/year renewal to a Tier D $1,000/year renewal while keeping other registered domains in Tier A?
The registry agreement isn’t as clear about this. I reached out to ICANN for clarification. In an email, the organization stated:
The registry operator must maintain uniform pricing and universally apply refunds, rebates, discounts, product tying or other programs in place at the time of renewal. In the hypothetical scenario you presented (“[…] this name has been singled out to move to another of the premium pricing tiers while other names haven’t.”), one of the things that comes to mind is whether or not the RO’s approach would be consistent with the requirement regarding maintaining uniform pricing. a priori, it appears that the registry operator may not be maintaining uniform pricing (see Article 2.10 (c) of the Registry Agreement (RA) “[f]or the purposes of determining Renewal Pricing, each domain registration renewal must be identical to the price of all other domain name registration renewals in place at the time of such renewal […])” However, to determine whether the scenario you are presenting violates the RA, it would be necessary to review all details of the renewal against the RA requirements. These details include prices at the time of the renewal and whether the exceptions stated in Article 2.10 (c) apply to the case at hand – whether the registrant agreed to a higher renewal price at the time of registration and whether the differences in renewal price (between this domain name and the “other names”) resulted from a Qualified Marketing Program.
That’s not a definitive answer, but it seems like you’d have a good case to challenge a registry that moved your domain from one tier to another.
I’m not aware of any registry doing this, although some have certainly moved unregistered domains from one tier to another. And if a domain expires, its pricing for the next registrant can change.
Post link: Can registries change the pricing tiers of your premium domains?
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Author: Andrew Allemann