A domain name and website are now recognised legally as important assets of a company, but businesses which think they own both, often don’t…
A few years ago I was the chairman of the short-lived website developers organization “Web Pro Wales”. The lofty aim of WPW was to encourage and develop best practice in both the way we deal with our clients and the websites and software we sell them. I spent many hours in discussion with a small group of founder businesses trying to decide on the list of standards our members should either have already achieved, or should be working towards. Many of the proposed standards were contentious resulting in extended debate, but one was not. In essence it was that:
Unless specifically requested otherwise, domain names purchased on behalf of a client by the developer should always be registered using the name, address and contact details of the client.
In other words, never, ever, register clients’ domains in your own or your business’ name, because if you do, you will own the domain that they have paid for.
Domain ownership is not a trivial or merely technical matter. Ownership confers almost total control over the usage of that domain, including the right to sell it to anyone for any price, rent it, or simply “cyber-sit”, doing nothing at all with it.
I was reminded of this principle last week when I received a request to re-develop a website for a holiday cottage business on the West Wales coast. I thought I had better check when their domain needed renewing and so did a “WHOIS” database lookup using www.scl.co.uk/domains
I was surprised to find that the domain was registered as owned by their former website development company Wales Tourists Online, based in Bangor, North Wales. I emailed the company and explained that I was putting together a proposal for a new site and asked how much they would sell the domain for.
Bearing in mind that a .co.uk domain costs only £5 a year to keep renewed, and Wales Tourists Online had had a 6 year, and presumably good, relationship with my client, I expected a reply saying a tenner or some nominal amount for a domain which is of no use to them, as it refers to someone else’s business. The reply I got from Wales Tourists Online was a shock. It stated simply:
“The domain name is for sale @ £500.00″.
I replied, offering £75 for the domain and received this response from a Tony Thomas of Wales Tourists Online:
“We are no longer willing to sell the name. Should they choose us to host it we would be willing to let them use the domain free of charge”
Hosting with them he said would cost £120 a year.
I then did a Google Search for Wales Tourists Online and looked at the domain name registrations of some of their customers. Below is a sample of what I found. The domain names of a significant number of sites hosted by Wales Tourists Online are not owned by the business owner, but by Wales Tourists Online, just as my new client’s had been.
Any business which finds its domain name registered in the name of their hosting or website design company please be warned. Everything may be fine now, but if you decide to move, you might find it difficult, or expensive to do so with your current domain name.
The UK Domain Name registration body – Nominet – does have a dispute resolution service however there are hefty fees involved and it can take months. Certain specialist lawyers will also take up your case, but at £350+ per letter, that’s not cheap either. For my client, the simplest and least expensive solution was to buy a new domain (£30 for a .com and £10 for a .co.uk) and develop a new site at this location. Should they wish to move hosting company or change their website designer in the future, they have the power to do so, completely free of charge.
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