If you’re in business, you probably already have your carefully chosen domain name and your website up and running. However, just because you have a website and pay the bill for your domain name doesn’t mean that you own it. Yep, that’s right; you may not be the legal owner of your domain name.
This is serious, because whoever is the legal owner of your domain name, that person has total control over it including: what web site it points to, what domain name registrar maintains it, changing information about your domain name account, controlling who administers it, and being able to sell it as well.
It’s surprising how many business owners that I’ve spoken to recently are blissfully unaware of who actually owns and controls their domain name. Not only that: they’ve also had the unfortunate task of dealing with the issue when it goes sour.
What this means for your business
Imagine not having control of your domain name; what would that mean for you and your business if the worse happened? It would be disastrous not to mention inconvenient. Imagine having to change the name of your website address, your stationary and business cards, and your email address to name but a few. How much down time would this amount to and ultimately how much would it cost your business?
To prevent all this from happening, here are some tips on how to find out who actually owns your domain name and what to do if it isn’t you who owns it.
Take action now
Firstly, you must determine if you own your domain name or not. You only own your domain name if your name is listed under the registrant section of the domain information.
Just recently I was speaking to a business owner who was really upset because they found out that their previous website provider had registered their domain name in the name of the website company – not the business owner. The website provider was holding their domain name hostage and didn’t want to turn it over to the owner of the business for some unknown reason. The business owner was really shocked – understandably so, saying: “I started this company with my business name – I own the company, so the domain name should be mine – I should own it.” He has a point, however, in the eyes of the law, the person whose name is listed as the registered owner is the actual legal owner – no ifs; no buts.
The only way around this problem is if your business name has been trademarked. Only then does the person who holds your domain name have to sell it back to you at cost. Unfortunately the business owner hadn’t trademarked their business name.
Let’s say that you gave your best friend some money and asked them to go and buy you a car. They then go and buy the car but register it in their name. That car is now legally their property, even though you paid all the money for it – that’s the law. It’s the same with your domain name.
Find out who owns your domain name
So, how do you actually find out if you own your domain or not? Visit http://who.is and enter your domain name into the search box. Look at the search results, especially the section that says ‘Registrant’. If your name is listed then you’re in luck! If there is someone else’s name listed – for example your current web provider’s name, then contact them immediately and ask them to change it to your name – remember the car analogy?
In order to keep your domain name under your control the best strategy is to have your domain name under your own name, in your own domain account with a separate registration from your website provider. For example Fasthosts, 123-Reg, and Godaddy are all reputable companies that provide ‘domain only’ account options.
How to gain control
So, what if your domain name is in someone else’s control – how do you get your domain name back if the person or company who is holding the domain name is not cooperative or is unwilling to change the ownership or give you access or control?
Here are a few choices:
- Seek legal advice and resort to legal action where you can prove that it is your business and that you have paid the website / domain provider to maintain the domain name for you. Check InterNIC for more information – the legal process may go through ICANN (See Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy). Some domain registrars also provide a domain release procedure, so ask.
- Find out when your domain name is expiring (use http://who.is again) and ask you domain name provider to put in a backorder to buy the domain when it becomes available again.
- Use a different domain name for your business – this time make sure you are the owner of the name!
Once you have ownership and control of your domain name, then you will have the freedom to use a website provider that you want – when you want.
I hope this helps – good luck and never give up control of your domain name – no matter what!