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Who Owns Your Domain, and What to Do if Somebody Else Does

Domain Ownership Is Important

Your domain name identifies your brand on the world wide web. It's an important business asset and should be controlled by someone in authority in the business. This is doubly important if you ever want to sell your business. Whoever controls your domain can shut down your website or lose it for you altogether.

Often, the "Registrant" is the person who registered the domain in the first place. It could be an employee, someone who has since left, or your first website designer.

For obvious reasons, it's important that your business owns its domain name. We have recently come across several businesses who have had problems because they don't. Some are simple business problems and in one case, a website was hacked.

Domain Name Registration

The Domain Name System, or DNS, is like a telephone directory, linking your domain name to the physical address of your web site.

You don't actually own the domain, it's more like a lease. So long as you continue to pay the annual subscription, you keep the name and its place in the DNS directory. If payments lapse, you lose both and someone else can take it over. Christopher Fielden is a well-known wine writer. He failed to keep up his domain registration way past the end of the cooling off period. Guess who owns it now.

Different organisations across the world manage the domain name directory.

  • An organisation called Nominet controls domains ending with .uk, including .co.uk, .org.uk and so on;
  • .com, .net and .org domains are managed by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

For a more complete explanation, try Wikipedia, here.

Domain Register

Registrar: an organisation that performs registrations, often an Internet Service Provider.

Registrant: the current "owner" of a domain.

You should to be the Registrant. It says so here, in Nominet's rules, top of page 2, section 1.4.

Here's our Entry in the register. Our company, M A Fielden & Co Ltd, trading as BlueTree Website Design, is the Registrant. The domain is registered with Fasthosts Internet Ltd, our local ISP based in Gloucester.

Who Registered Your Domain?

To discover who registered your domain, go to the "Whois" website and enter your domain name, e.g. www.bluetree.co.uk.

If the Registrant is not your company, then you should take steps to change it.

If a private individual registers a domain that's not used for trade, they can pay extra to hide their contact details. This can make things difficult. A business cannot hide its details, however.

What To Do Next

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If your company is the Registrant, than all you need do is implement a timely renewal procedure.

You can usually elect to receive email reminders from your Registrar, or to renew automatically if you provide payment details.

Make sure that the individual you nominate to handle renewal and payments is someone you trust, such as an officer of your company, i.e. a Director or the Company Secretary.

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Contact the Registrant and ask them to transfer the registration to your business. The process will vary depending of the Registrant, but you'll find a generic transfer procedure here, in the right-hand column of this page, or below if you're viewing on a smartphone.

They may ask for money, and they may ask you to pay for their time. It shouldn't take them more than 15 minutes, or maybe an hour or two if they have to find out how to do it.

TIP: If you need to set up a new account to receive the domain, do it with the same Registrar, as the procedure is much simpler. It's also faster, and with different Registrars your website may be inaccessible for a day or so.

The Registrant may refuse the transfer only if they have reasonable grounds to do so, such as a history of trading with the same name as you use.

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Now this could get a bit tricky. If they don't have a reasonable claim to the domain, the Registrant ought to let you have it. However, you have to rely upon them to do something, so you may need to offer some temptation.

If they don't know what to do, you can offer help from your website designer. There may be enough information in the generic procedure on this page.

If they just refuse to do anything, or ask for too much money, then there's an arbitration procedure called the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. Nominet administers this for .co.uk and similar domains with its Dispute Resolution Service. For .xxx domains, like .com and .org, ICANN has appointed arbitrators. Here is a list of them.

Unfortunately, this will cost money. Nominet will charge anything from £200 to £3,000, plus VAT, depending on the complexity of the argument and whether it goes to appeal. ICANN's fees could be considerably more.

Let's hope arbitration isn't required. So long as you have a good claim on the domain, and the current Registrant hasn't, the threat might be enough, as both parties will incur costs.

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To make sure you don't have a problem in the future, develop two new business procedures:

  1. Renew your domain registration before the expiry date. Your Registrar will send a reminder by email to whoever you nominated. Most also have an automated renewal system, though this requires you to lodge a means of payment with the Registrar.
  2. What to do if your webmaster leaves. You can find some ideas on this page.

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Registration Transfer Procedure

Your Preparation

  1. Open an account for your business with a Registrar if you don't already have one. The process is simpler if you transfer the domain to another account with the same Registrar.
    TIP: You'll need to identify a "Registrant contact". We recommend that this be an officer of the company, a director, shareholder, or the company secretary.
  2. If using the same Registrar, give the original Registrant these details (example here):
    1. your account number,
    2. the full name of your business,
    3. your trading name if you use one,
    4. the registered address of your business,
    5. if a limited company, your company registration number,
    6. name, email address and telephone number, for your primary contact.
  3. If using a different Registrar, be prepared for your website to be unavailable for 24 hours or more. You'll also need also to tell them your new Registrar's "IPS tag". IPS stands for "Internet Provider Security". It's a unique code that identifies approved Registrars.
    Here's a list of Registrars' IPS tags.

Original Registrant's Steps

These examples come from Fasthosts' website.

  1. Log into your account with the Registrar.
  2. Look for the Domains section and select Manage Domains, or similar.
    Registrar website domain transfer menu
  3. Look for a section on this page labelled something like Contacts & Ownership.
    Select transfer ownership
  4. Select Transfer and complete the relevant forms using the data provided by your new Registrant.

For You To Do Afterwards

Log in to your new account and,

  1. Change the password,
  2. Update any other relevant information,
  3. Implement procedures to deal with
  4. renewal and your trusted password-holder leaving.

More questions?

Call BlueTree now on 0117 339 0095 or contact us here.


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