Your business website is fantastic. It works so well, ranking highly in search engines, it is beautifully designed and the content on your site is so informative and persuasive that the customers simply can’t wait to spend their hard-borrowed cash on your product. One day though, that website of yours might just disappear…
We’ve seen it happen. If your domain (your web address, for example mycompany.co.uk) belongs to someone else, like a midnight web developer, a flamboyant designer darling, or a holistic marketing guru then it is obviously their property and their responsibility. It is not in your control and this invaluable asset is at the mercy of another party. What type of problems could this cause?
- The person responsible could fail to renew the registration of the domain on your behalf, meaning you could eventually lose your domain. This could be for a variety of reasons (they have no cash, the business went bust, or maybe your businesses have ceased working together).
- This is highly unlikely, but such is their authority over the domain, the person responsible could point the domain at a different website, meaning when someone looks up your web address instead of seeing your site, all of a sudden there’s something else there!
- A more likely scenario is that you build a new website and when it comes to repointing the domain to the new site, you try to do this but realise you don’t actually own the domain. You try to contact the person with authority, but they are no longer contactable because they did it 5 years ago, you have no paperwork, your old email account is no longer active, and even if you could find their details, they have moved. Consequently you are stuck with your old website… and remember the domain will need to be renewed at some time in the near future (see point 1).
When it comes down to one of these scenarios it is going to be a real hassle reaching a satisfactory resolution, because someone else has ownership and authority over your domain, and essentially it is out of your hands. So what? I can just get a new domain can’t I… Consider, what cost marketing a new domain, the loss of years of search engine presence, reprinting packaging, changing the TV advert you just commissioned. Some might say ‘We can cross that bridge when we come to it’.
It might not be an option, the bridge could have been swept down the river a long time ago. So who is in charge of all this domain stuff then?
Different domains are controlled by different authorities in different countries.
Nominet is the UK Registy for domain names, that being domains ending .uk (including .co.uk). You might think of them as the appointed guardian, an authority on, or the wholesaler of uk domains. You can’t buy domains from them directly, you need to purchase them from a Domain Registrar, for example someone like IONOS, 123-reg, Webfusion, Dataflame etc… there are countless other providers available.
Nominet have fair procedures and systems for settling any disputes or issues with domain ownership. This doesn’t mean you’ll always win your case of course, as I say they have fair systems and procedures, so don’t bother trying to claim amazon or ebay .co.uk addresses. The main problems arise when we look into ownership of a .com, a .biz, a .de, or similar, ie any domains that are not registered through Nominet in the UK. Instead the domains mentioned are registered via different bodies in different countries. Nevermind the call charges to the US to talk to the domain registry there – ICANN, what are the procedures for dealing with disputes, and if it does get awkward, how does a uk citizen exercise legal action in foreign territory. You may need to look into contesting domain names through WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation). What a load of hassle! Who actually owns my domain then? Well its actually straightforward to find out if its a .uk, simply search the web for ‘WHOIS’. This will return a number of websites where you can enter your domain (web address) and find out who owns the domain name. If it is a .uk you should be able to see who owns it (registrant), which domain provider it is registered with (registrar), and when it is due for renewal. With other domains you may or may not be able to see the above mentioned detail, for example with a .com the WHOIS record doesn’t have to show the domain owner’s details.
BEWARE, if you OWN your domain. If your name is down as the registrant then legally any transfers or changes to the domain will need to be (should be) authorised by you. Great on the face of it, but you must also check the contact details held for you. One example might be the domain provider responsible tries to contact you when the domain is due for renewal, but the contact details are wrong, therefore you miss the email and miss out on renewing the domain… it then becomes available on the open market and someone else snaps it up.
BEWARE, if you DON’T OWN your domain. If you don’t own your domain, someone else has ultimate control over it.
I don’t own my domain! OMG!
Don’t panic! That midnight web developer, flamboyant designer darling, or holistic marketing guru you appointed is probably a thoroughly decent, responsible person, if you just kindly ask them to talk you through how you could transfer the domain over to yourself, there is a good chance that they would see no problem in doing this whatsoever.
If after a time they refuse to do so, or if they prove uncontactable, and if its a .co.uk then you may wish to consider looking at contacting Nominet and seeing if they can help you. It’s best to start with a phone call to them and it may turn out that you need to go through their Dispute Resolution Service (DRS).
If its a .com, .biz or .net, then disputes will be dealt with in the US and you may need to go through ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP). For any other domains in other countries you will need to go through the relevant bodies and processes.
If this fails then you may need to consider legal action to obtain what you believe is your domain name, and at this point you weigh up the cost of legal action and potential outcomes of this, against the costs and implications of changing domain name altogether.
Please note that on the nominet site they say for every 2000 domain names, they have a dispute.
Going by these figures there is a good chance you might expect the current owner of the domain to assist you in transferring ownership of the domain to you.
Just be sure to make contact with the owner of your domain, sooner rather than later.
Samuel Manley is the Multimedia Designer at Aawen Design Studio, Cornwall, UK, working on projects from design for Print and Web, to front-end Web development and on-page SEO.