What happens when you discover that your domain name is not registered to you, but someone else? There are two common causes for this:
- A web firm or marketing agency registered the domain name on your behalf and used the agency name as the registrar (this can happen out of ignorance, or more maliciously, as a way to maintain a hold on [you] the client)
- The company or part of the company changed hands and the registrant information was not updated
Every few months this issue pops up, and the resolution varies from pain-in-the-butt to there-is-nothing-we-can-do.
A couple of quick definitions:
- Registrar: the company that keeps track of the registration information for your domain name, such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy, etc.
- Registrant: the organization of record (with the registrar) that holds ownership of the domain name
Registrars allow registrations as long as 10 years (Network Solutions will now do a 100-year registration). A lot can happen during this time, and often the people who were responsible for keeping track of this info have moved on.
The best solution is prevention. Make sure someone in your organization is serious about monitoring your domain name. It is a vital piece of your organization’s identity and intellectual property. You should know:
- The name of your domain registrar (Network Solutions, Register.com, GoDaddy, etc.)
- The login/password credentials for your registration account with your registrar
- The expiration date of the registration
- My organization is listed as the registrant (the entity that owns the domain name)
- My contact information (especially email addresses) are up-to-date
If you are purchasing an organization with an existing web site, be sure that the transfer of the domain registration is part of your agreement, and make sure there is a timeline for this to happen. Inform your attorney this is a vital transfer of assets. In fact, a tech-savvy attorney will likely be already aware of this and on top of it.
It’s too late
So what if you’ve checked your registration and found that it’s too late, you are already stuck with and out-of-date registrant?
Each registrar has their policies on how to transfer ownership of the domain name. Typically, if the current registrant (the one listed as the domain owner) is willing to transfer the domain, the registrar will accept documentation that authorizes the transfer of ownership. A pain in the butt, but doable with a bit of paper chasing.
Sometimes, the registrant of record is inaccessible, either because they are out of business, or they are unwilling, for whatever reason, to release the domain name. We recently had a case, as described above, where a previous agency had registered the domain name on behalf of the client, in the name of the agency. This previous agency has now been out of business for some time.
We called the registrar (in this case Network Solutions) and described the basics of the problem. At first, the NetSol rep was adamant, if the current registrant would not release the domain name, there was nothing NetSol could do, as they were the legal owner of the domain name. This was the there-is-nothing-we-can-do answer.
After explaining the agency scenario, the NetSol rep became more sympathetic. He suggested that the client contact NetSol directly, speak to a rep, and explore possibilities. There are rules are in place but there is room for negotiation.
So if you find yourself with a domain you don’t really own, first step is to try to can contact the registrant of record and see of they will be amenable to transferring the domain name to your organization. Whether the answer is yes or no, the next step is contact your registrar to determine what happens next. If yes, there will be paperwork and then a domain in your name. If no, then the registrar will tell you what steps they are willing to take to help you. You may need an attorney’s aid to get resolution.
Don’t lose it
A domain name costs very little ($10-35 annually), and sometimes that’s the value that’s placed on it. But for an organization that builds a brand around the domain (years of web visitors, advertising, print materials with the domain, email addresses) loss of the domain could cost many thousands or even millions of dollars. Be aware.
You can do what is called a WHOIS (who-is) lookup at Network Solutions (and at most other registrars). Unless the domain has a private registration, you’ll see the registrant, contact info (check those email addresses), and expiration date. Note: If the domain is registered at GoDaddy you’ll need to visit their WHOIS to get the pertinent details. If the domain is private and you own it, or think you should, give the registrar a call and work with them to gain access to your account.