Skip to: Site menu | Main content

Out of Control WWW Domains

(Thu Aug 2nd, 2007, by Jim Degerstrom)

People take advantage of small business owners who leap into the online world without the knowledge to make proper choices. Registration of a www domain gives you a license for a set period of time, and must be renewed to retain control, so you do not own it. Don't wait to be asked the next question "Do you control your website domain?" because twice in 2007 I designed custom websites for clients who lost control due to an uncooperative originating party who registered the domains in question.

In both cases the client paid for their domain. In the first instance the registrar simply registered the new domain in their company name, not the client's. In the more recent situation, my client bought a business and the previous owner did not take action to transfer the registrant information. Each relationship deteriorated to the point where the clients felt compelled to register another domain, and fortunately the productivity of each business site was insignificant, so the downside of letting it go was minimal.

Each finally realized the risk of a hostile party pulling the plug on their website, and came to me for help. After lengthy discussions, and advice for attempting to regain control of their www domains, each entrusted me to register a new domain. The only recognized authority as the bona fide registrant of a domain is the administrative contact listed in the worldwide registry for a given www name. To be more specific, it is not the person shown, but the email address of the administrative contact in the registration who controls a domain.

It is not the billing contact. It is not the registrant. It is not the technical contact. All correspondence affecting control of a www domain must originate from the administrative contact email address listed in the registration files. Regardless of the person listed, whoever can reply to emails as the adminsitrative contact for that domain is the only recognized authority.

Small business owners are at risk whenever they buy a website domain, and the risks increase if you acquire a business that includes a website. If you buy an established business with a productive website you could lose significant revenue and good will depending on the previous owner. Most sellers will cooperate and transfers will go smoothly. In the rare case of deals being made and then a hostile relationship develops, the legal recourse may only exacerbate the financial loss.

Before we continue, consider the 3 things you need to get your new small business website online.

  1. You must select and acquire a www domain name that is not already taken, and pay the registration fee.
  2. You must find and pay in advance or month to month for hosting which is storage space for your pages.
  3. You must have a website design whether it is purchased with a business, done in-house, or contracted.

Each of these involve services without a tangible product. There is nothing physical that you receive to put in a safety deposit box for secure storage. Domains, websites, and your site graphics are all digital and therefore more susceptible to problems controlling and protecting your rights. The exception would be having all files on a CD or DVD, yet the mechanics involved of having the files online and controlling their use means there is still untold risk involved for unwary small business owners.

Due diligence is critical in any new business venture. Some people registering domains on behalf of clients are looking for a residual income stream. If a small business owner does not ask, or know to ask, some registrars will intentionally keep their name as the administrative contact on domains they acquire on behalf of clients thinking they have them locked up as a customer indefinitely. In most cases it works unless that customer learns of more cost effective options, or in the worst scenario, their relationship becomes hostile. The real disasters are companies holding www domain names for clients, and then the registrar goes out of business and the administrative contacts become a non-existant email address.

That last one happened to one client who contacted me. It took more than one year of wasted time and frustration before they established control as the legitimate holder of the www domain, and during that year their site was offline.

In conclusion, you do not own your domain. You own the license. You must be wary and should get several opinions before you delegate the process of acquiring a www domain, and let it be known up front that you must be listed as the administrative contact for your website. Shop around to make sure the price per year for your domain is not excessive. Take the same approach to understand hosting. Finally, consider the website design and cost involved, and make sure you are comfortable with your choices before agreeing to proceed.

About the Author Jim Degerstrom writes small business advice based on 30 years in management, sales, and marketing, including GM or President of small companies in 5 states. He is proficient in website and graphic art design, and runs his online Small Business Resource Center and offers advice on his Small Business Advice Blog from Kissimmee, Florida USA.