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NAMING YOUR COMPANY

Acquire an Expired Domain Name

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You've set your sights set on a domain name registered to someone else. The owner's registration has expired, but the name still isn't available. What's the status of the name? And what, if anything, can you do to secure it?

Domain name owners may use the name however they like for a given period of time. They may choose to assign it to a Web site, sell it to someone else, or not use it at all.

But the registration is only valid as long as owners pay the annual registration fee, usually around $35 (U.S.). If they don't, the registration expires and the name becomes available again.

Expired names don't become available immediately, however. An expired name still unavailable for registration is considered "on hold." And it's not possible to predict how long this period will last.

What Gives?

A number of reasons explain why an expired domain name might be on hold.

The grace period has not expired. When a domain name expires, the registrar usually allows a grace period for renewal. During this time, the registrant has the exclusive right to renew the registration. Only at the end of the grace period does the name become available. There's no rule governing the length of this grace period. Registrars release such names in batches, not individually.

The name is in dispute. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of legal disputes surrounding domain names. Some of these cases are high-profile, but most never make the news. According to domain expert Ellen Rony, co-author of The Domain Name Handbook, as long as a name is in dispute, the courts may order it to be kept on hold.

The registrant owes money on the name. Some registrars hold domain names long past their expiration dates. The names are neither renewed nor released. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) prohibits registrars from hoarding domain names.

But according to Rony, some registrars hold names in order to auction them off to recoup registration fees. A class-action lawsuit against registrar Network Solutions contends the company has been hoarding expired domain names.

Tips and Tactics

Does this mean attempting to register an expired domain name is impossible? Not necessarily. If you're determined to register a particular name, there are a number of strategies you can employ.

Contact the registrant. It's possible the owner of the domain doesn't plan to renew it. This is especially likely if the name isn't in use. You might contact the registrant and ask about a transfer of the name to you. The danger is that once the registrant realizes the name is valuable to you, it will be offered at an inflated price.

Monitor the name yourself. Another method is to use the Better-Whois database to check on the name periodically. Once the name expires, attempt to register it through the registrar of your choice. Keep trying until you are successful.

Keep in mind it's unpredictable when the name will become available for registration. It could be weeks or months. If the name you're after is desirable, your window of opportunity will be small.

Use a notification service. A variety of services have sprung up to take advantage of the interest in expiring domain names. These companies use a variety of methods to help customers secure the names they want.

Domains Bot monitors a database of active domains kept by Network Solutions and provides customers with lists of expired names as they become available for registration.

Services such as mydomainfinder.com, DomainMart and EyeOnDomain.com monitor specified names for their customers. MyDomainFinder.com and UnclaimedDomains.com send out a weekly member newsletter with lists of expired domain names.

Domains Bot charges $7.95 (U.S.) for seven days of database access, $19.95 for 31 days. EyeOnDomain.com charges $3.95 plus a $15 registration fee.

DomainMart.com determines its fees through auctions, plus it charges a $10 registration fee. You pay only the amount you bid if you get the domain name. A year's subscription to Unclaimed Domains or mydomainfinder.com is around $50.

Of course, if the name you want is on hold, you can always think up a new one. Remember, while short, easily remembered names such as "pets.com" and "garden.com" are commonly considered to be the most valuable, they hardly guarantee a successful business. In the end, you might decide YourDreamName.com isn't worth the wait.

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