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Who Really Owns Your Domain Name?

June 20, 2005

Tim Summers, Diversified Computer Solutions, Inc.

If you?ve ever paid someone to register a domain name or build a web site for your business or personal use chances are that you simply assumed you would own the domain name. Not necessarily! Depending on how the domain name was registered you may not even be listed as a contact on your own domain name.

Whether through ignorance or outright dishonesty, some independent contractors, web development firms and even big name hosting companies will list themselves, your employee, or some other 3rd party as the owner of the domain name (known as the ?registrant?) without your knowledge or approval.

This can lead to big problems particularly if your employee leaves the company or you decide its time to switch hosting or web development companies. I personally have seen instances where customers feel trapped because their contractor, web development firm or hosting company refuses to let go of the client?s domain name. I have even seen former employees refuse to remove themselves as the registrant just to create grief for their former employers.

To combat this problem, ICANN has developed a dispute resolution policy. Unfortunately, that policy often involves the court and all of the associated expenses. If you?re lucky, your situation may qualify for their ?administrative procedure? that bypasses the legal system. Either way, if you find yourself in a dispute over a domain name, expect to spend a lot of unproductive hours and possibly even money trying to regain control of a domain name that originally probably cost you (at most) $35 per year.

What should you do to protect yourself? There are several things that you can do to protect yourself including:

  1. Get to Know Your Registrar
    If you have yet to register your domain name, make sure that you ask your web developer who they will be using as the domain registrar. Check out that registrar?s website and learn about their dispute resolution procedures and make sure that a phone number is listed for support. Be sure to call that number and ask questions! Did you get a human being on the line? If you left a message, did they call you back? Did they seem to know what they were talking about?
  2. Cheaper is Not Always Best
    Don?t always go with the cheapest Registrar on the Internet. Often, to reduce costs, Registrars will replace valuable services such as phone support with what I call ?no response e-mail support?. Remember, you get what you pay for!
  3. Be Careful of Delegating
    Don?t just delegate the domain name registration to your contractor or employee and assume that everything will be OK. Stay on top of the registration process and ask to be notified when it is complete.
  4. Run a WHOIS Search
    Run a WHOIS search on your domain name and review the associated contact information that was entered when it was registered. Make sure that you and/or your company is listed as the ?Registrant?. Note, it is not uncommon (or necessarily a bad thing) to see your web development firm or hosting company listed as the Technical or even Administrative Contacts. We do this for many of our own clients.
  5. Pay Your Bills
    Make sure to pay your domain name registration bills. If your bill is past due or if you forget to renew your domain name, you could find yourself with an unreachable website, no e-mail, and a domain name that is now available to the public.
  6. Keep Your Contact Information Up-to-Date
    When it comes time to renew your domain name, some Registrars will attempt to notify you via the mailing address or e-mail address that was entered when the domain name was registered. If any of that information is out of date, your Registrar?s notification may get lost and they may not attempt to contact you again. You won?t know there is a problem until your website is unreachable or your e-mail doesn?t work.
  7. Get Your Username and Password
    Most Registrars offer their clients a method to update domain names over the Internet through a secured management console. Make sure to document your assigned username, password, and the web address (URL) to the management console and be sure to make the appropriate updates whenever your contact information changes.

A Note Regarding Ownership
In truth, no one really ?owns? a domain name. Per ICANN, the organization that manages and coordinates the distribution of unique IP addresses and domain names, when a domain name is registered it is associated with a computer on the Internet during the period that the registration is in effect. This means that if you fail to keep renewing your domain name, it will eventually expire and become available to the public. In short, we really ?lease? domain names.

For more information regarding ICANN, visit their website at http://www.icann.org.

About The Author Tim Summers is the President and owner of DIVERSIFIED Computer Solutions, Inc. (http://www.diversifiedcomputer.net) a full-service systems integration and application development company that specializes in providing high quality, cost-effective Information Technology (I.T.) related consulting and support services including computer repair, network and server administration, custom programming, website design, database development, and domain name registration.

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