Who owns your domain?

3 responses

Web Domains

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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3 Responses to “Who owns your domain?” [latest at bottom]

  1. Changing domain and even website designer is possible but realistically a hassle. Many companies will want to register their business name.com or co.uk but if not possible they may have to buy a new domain name. What people dont realise is that changing the domain can drastically effect their business for example a website called kitchenappliances.com will not register the same amount of interest/business as kitchenproducts.com it may well do but in reality if kitchen appliances was your first choice you are likely to do whatever possible to keep and register that name.

  2. Hi I have been reading your site info and it sounds like it is the same I think what has happened to me.

    In 2005 I set up a company and registered it at companies house as a limited company.

    A webmaster of a internet marketing company who I know had bought the domain and needed a company who was doing the type of work that the domain name suited.
    The webmaster said that he would build a website with the content info that I gave him in connection with the company work we do and put it on the internet with our company name on the top of the website.

    What i did not know until now that he has used us as a company to build up the website,then approached us asking for 5% of everything we earn. I declined and asked him to remove the company name address and telephone number off the website in question as the construction work we do had declined too with the current climate we are all going through.

    What he has done now is left the info on this website changed the telephone number and is now taking work away from us and selling off the enquiries through his website he has built up using us.He has been still showing our company name and address which is misleading clients to click on the site as they think he is us, as he is still stating that he is us on the website with the different telephone number but leaving the address of our company showing on Google browsers. He has even taken our company place at the top of the page when you type our company name into the browser. I have contacted him and asked him to remove the content from the pages as we have no association with his company but still is using our company name above the domain name and our address on Google maps and all other search related words phrases etc on Google browser.

    I have reported this to Google and gone down every channel to get this site content removed with the incorrect data on the site about us, without success yet.
    I have found out that because he owned the website domain he was in full control of the content he puts on it and this can not be taken down unless he takes it off as the webmaster of the website. He obviously will not do that as he is making money from leaving our company name and address attached to the website as clients think its us as being the company so being mislead as they think the domain name is related still to us.

    We are in the process of going through a DMCA which is a take down of copy content that is on his site that he does not own and to remove the incorrect content and our name and company address that is not associated with this site anymore.

    My advise to clients reading your web site is to make sure they are fully made aware from any hosting companies or anyone offering you to build a website with a domain name regarding who owns the domain at the very start or you could find a massive solicitors bill coming and risk also loosing everything you have worked hard for over the years.

    The website has been running since 2005 and I have only just found out by digging very deep with help from other sauces what has been going on.

    The other important point is also that as the webmaster of the domain he or she is in full control of the website he or she builds, you do not know how many clients where coming through to your business and he could of been selling off those contacts to others without you even knowing as we have found out.

  3. Hi Philip, Thanks for that account. Nearly all of the “second generation” websites I have been contracted to create over the last 5 years has involved me in a good deal of what I call “forensic IT” work, sorting out legacy ownership issues in order to secure the rights of the client to the site and content they assumed they owned. Sometimes it has been necessary, in order to avoid the lawyers fees, to simply begin again on a new domain.

    One useful thing to remember though (I was told this by the good people at SCL is that if you paid a web designer or someone else to register a domain in your name, and they failed to do so and you have a copy of their invoice, or other proof of the contract, and if they did not register it in your name, Nominet, the domain registration body in the UK will transfer it to you. The fees are a lot less that a lawyer I think.