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Domain Name DisputesYou paid for your domain registration, but do you own it?

One of the most common problems that we help new clients solve is establishing “ownership” of their domain. A domain is the address you type in a browser to get to your company’s website.

First let’s define the word “own”. You only “own” a domain to the extent that you “own” your home phone number. A better word to use would be “lease”, but we’ll stick with the commonly used “own” for simplicity.

All too often the surprising answer to this simple question is no. Having the wrong name on your domain registration can cause expensive and frustrating problems. We have dealt with several cases where a client ran into serious trouble when they discovered that the domain they thought was theirs turned out to be owned by someone else.

The risks are real. Companies who have built their business around a domain they thought they owned have been held hostage by suppliers and former employees. Reasserting ownership of your domain can cost a lot of money, involve delays and legal fees, or in extreme cases even force switching to a new domain name, losing the brand value of the lost domain.

OK, So Who Does Own My Domain?

Start by checking your the contact details on your domain registration record. You can do this for free using the Strother Web Solutions Whois search tool. If you don't use a privacy service you should be able to verify the following:

  • The registrant name is either your name or the full legal name of your business.
  • The address and phone numbers are current and correct.
  • All contact names are correct and their email addresses are valid and working.
  • The contact addresses should either be those of people with a legal responsibility to the business, such as owners, officers and directors, or "meta-addresses" like This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Consider setting up an account with a mail service like Google Mail for your contacts. After all, if your domain has a serious problem, there's a good chance mail to your domain won't be getting through.

If you use a privacy protection service then you need to check that they have the correct information. The process for doing this varies from service to service. In most cases, the service will use the information provided at the time the domain was registered. You should be able to access this by logging in to your registration account. If you don't have access information for this account, this might be the first sign of trouble.

Help! My Domain Isn't Mine! Now What?

First, don't panic. There are lots of ethical businesses and loyal staff who will never give you a problem. Most of the time, correcting the problem is simple and inexpensive. Your domain was probably registered by your web site developer, a current or former staff member. If you have a good relationship with them you still have time to protect yourself. The trouble starts when that relationship breaks down.

If Your Web Developer Owns Your Domain

This is fairly common. After all, your web developer has the expertise you need to get your site registered, created and hosted. It makes sense to let them handle the initial registration. Web designers can frequently get bulk discounts for registering multiple domains, so their costs may be lower than what you could get doing it on your own.

To protect yourself, get, in writing, a statement from your web designer stating that you own your domain. The statement should further state that they will give up access to the domain upon demand.

Do this as soon as possible. You may have a good relationship with your web designer today, but the problem will arise when that relationship takes a negative turn.

If you have any concerns at all, tell the vendor that you want the domain updated to reflect your name and email address. If they give you any grief, insist that your developer move the domain to an account that is exclusively for your use. Once that's done, change the password.

This may seem inconvenient, but the risk of giving a third party developer control over your domain is that if you ever elect to switch suppliers, an unethical designer ay try to hold your domain hostage, often demanding transfer payments in the thousands of dollars.

If a Staff Member Owns Your Domain

This is rarely a problem until after someone leaves the company. If the parting was not on good terms, or if it was due to some incapacitating illness, then there can be significant trouble. The employee can claim ownership of the domain, disable access to it, intercept eMail, or even redirect your customers to another site that can be very damaging to your image.

Make sure that the persons listed as domain contacts have a "fiduciary responsibility" to your business. Examples are owners, officers, and corporate directors. These people have a legal obligation to act in the interests of the company, which offers you a degree of legal protection against misappropriation.

However, if the owner is Becky, the snack bar girl, go ahead and get control of the domain now while it's in Becky's interest to follow your lead. After all, when you fire Becky next month, she 's not likely to be concerned about what's right for you any more, is she?


Need help applying the information in this article to your company?  Contact Us or post a comment or question below.

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