Just because you pay the domain name bill doesn't mean you own it.
That's right. You may not be the legal owner. 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.
In the many classes I've taught there's always someone who unfortunately has to deal with this issue. Here are some tips on how to find out who owns your domain and what to do if it isn't you.
First find out who owns it – Go to the WhoIs database and search for your domain. Whatever contact information is listed for both the "Registrant" fields and the "Administrator" fields, all of it, including any email addresses for these two fields, should be yours.
If you find this information is not yours, there are three possible reasons:
1. Private Listing – If you see something like "Domains by Proxy" listed as the registrant, more than likely the domain has a private listing which protects your privacy by not displaying your contact information. Contact your registrar to find out what contact information is behind the private registration. This is often stored in a separate account with a separate username and password.
2. Host Hijacking – Sometimes when you get a domain name included with your hosting account, the host will put their information as the registrant and administrative contact. Usually you have the ability to change this information by logging into your account. Don't let the host convince you that it should stay as it is.
3. Designer/Developer Hijacking – Sometimes unscrupulous practitioners will set this information to theirs without telling you. Sometimes this is done out of ignorance, but other times it is purposely intended to enable them to hold your domain name hostage should your relationship go sour.
Remedies – If a hijacking of your domain name has occurred here's what you can do:
Option 1 – Ask: for a host hijacking, developer hijacking or anyone else who's name appears where yours should, contact them to see if they'll change it. If not or you don't think this will work, you may need Option 2.
Option 2 – Legal Recourse: if you have a trademark it will make this easier. First, to find out your registrar's policy on domain name disputes, try searching your registrar's help section for the word "trademark." Most registrars adhere to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization. The UDRP starts at $1,500 to arbitrate a dispute.
Here are some helpful links describing their policies:
The key is to keep your calm, know your options and find out as soon as possible if your domain name is in peril.
And always, always keep the details about your domain name registration account. You should know who your domain is registered with and the username and password for your domain name registration account. You should be very careful about giving this information to anyone since you are potentially handing over the legal rights to your domain name. Try using the various tools registrars now provide to give someone limited access to manage things in your account. If you have to give someone a username and password, change it before you give it away and then change it back once they're done.
Stay tuned for more insights next week and if you've had a domain name story that might help another entrepreneur please share your experiences. Help you take a bite out of domain name crime.