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Who Owns Your Website? All About Domain Name Disputes
Chris Behan - President, Socius Marketing, Inc.
Having helped companies market their websites for close to 10 years now, I have encountered firsthand the many different ways some web development/marketing firms can back their clients into a corner. From coding sites using proprietary software that leaves the customer no choice but to remain with the firm or start all over again -- to coding it in such a way that only their programmers can edit the site -- unethical firms seem to be everywhere.
There is one practice, however, that truly borders on criminal. On an ever-increasing scale, we are finding development firms actually making themselves the registrant or owner on file of the company’s URL/Domain Name with Network Solutions, Go Daddy, etc. This practice effectively steals the domain name from the rightful owner, i.e. the customer, and puts it in the development firm’s name, almost ensuring that the customer can never stop doing business with that website development or SEO firm. Remember, it is not just your domain name, but your website, customers, sales, time, and effort that the web development firm took ownership of.
In one recent case that Socius consulted on, the customer had its domain stolen by a marketing firm in Tampa, Florida, and the firm refused to transfer the domain name unless the client paid an additional $10,000 for “The Big Idea.” This is after the customer already paid close to $22,000 for a 25-page, static website.
Many development firms actually defend this process, saying they only did it to help administer the domain. This, unfortunately, is almost certainly untrue, since the development firm could have simply made themselves the administrative contact of the domain, instead of the outright owner.
Here are a few tips to keep this from happening to you:
- Register your domain name yourself. Do not rely on the development firm to do it for you.
- When you register the domain name, make sure the company name or the owner of the company’s name is used.
- Register your domain name with a reputable company like Network Solutions or Go Daddy.
- Make sure every e-mail address you use when registering your domain name is one that you know you will always have. Also make sure every domain-related e-mail goes to a principal of the company who can be trusted to address any e-mails regarding the domain name. This helps prevent the theft of your domain name.
- Never give out your login and password to administer your domain name unless you are changing hosting companies. As soon as the new host is established, change the password to protect your information.
- Register your domain name for at least five years. It is very inexpensive, and if you are serious about marketing online, you want to do this.
If your domain name has already been stolen by a firm, here are some steps to follow:
- Be nice! If they are the registrant on file, they hold all the cards. Simply contact them and ask them to transfer ownership. Accept their “reasons” for doing it, and then ask them to transfer it. Hopefully this is all it takes.
- Be patient. It can take a few days (sometimes longer) to get this resolved and transferred.
- Be persistent. If 10 days have passed, e-mail them to follow up on the transfer.
- Be firm. If, after two weeks, they still have not transferred the domain name, mail them a certified letter insisting on their immediate attention to the matter.
- Be litigious. Unfortunately, it may result in you having to get an attorney. Before you do, consider what the website and domain name are worth to you or your company. If the domain is non-branded, new, or has low traffic, it may not be worth it. If you need help with this, let us know.
Important! Once you have received possession of your domain name, change the passwords. Use long passwords that combine letters, numbers, symbols, and case sensitivity.
If you are unsure about the ownership of your domain name, you can click here to view the current registrant information. If you find that you don’t own your domain name, and would like some further advice, please feel free to contact us.