You have finally made it! You have bought a property for your business; you have been comfortably trading for a while; you regularly make payments … and then all of a sudden you discover you don’t own your property. That the person who handled the sale registered the property in their name and they have decided to claim it and sell it on to someone else.
Sound far-fetched, or the stuff of those trashy tabloid Current Affairs shows? It happens every day in thousands of businesses around the world – but the only thing is that it happens with virtual real estate and not bricks and mortar. We often see it when our clients come to us to update their web copy or build a new website for them.
How URL Ownership Gets Messed Up
Your website URL or domain name is your virtual real estate and is as precious as your bricks and mortar building. However, there are loads of ways that your domain name can legitimately end up being owned by someone outside your business.
Most people don’t know much about domain name registration – they just trust their web developer to register their domain name (URL) on their behalf. However, if the web developer neglected by either malice or simple oversight to transfer the ownership to you once registered, you may discover that your domain name is actually registered in the name of the web company and not yours.
Another common mistake is if you had the office admin register your domain name online for you, you may find that he/she inadvertently registered the domain in their name and not your company name, not realising the legal implications.
Another way that domain names can get messed up is if you have changed company structures or partnerships – you may discover that your domain name is registered to a defunct trading entity. (This is what happened to many of our domain names, so we are speaking from experience here).
Why is this a problem?
Your domain name is valuable intellectual property (ip). If you wish to sell your business, it has value and needs to be transferred with the sale of your business. If you don’t have control of that asset, it will affect your sale price and process.
If your domain name ownership is held by a disgruntled employee, negative business associate or unhappy web developer, you are leaving yourself wide open to harmful consequences including the ownership being transferred and sold to another party; parallel websites installed with the addition of malicious software; or simply your site being removed.
Taking Back Ownership of your Domain Name
In the online world, domain name registration means ownership, and depending on the jurisdiction, the process of changing the registration can be quite complex and convoluted.
First – check out who is listed as the registered owner of the domain.
http://www.ausregistry.com.au/whois (for.au domains)
http://whois.domaintools.com/ (for all types of domains)
(Just remember that that owner’s details may be obscured by services such as WhoIsGuard, that are designed to protect online privacy.)
If you are not the registered owner of your site, you need to take action to reclaim control.
Start with a friendly discussion with the registered owner to see if it can be amicably transferred.
If You Can Access The Domain Name Registrar Website …
Generally, .com, .net, .org, .mobi sites etc only require the relevant boxes in the registration section of the domain name registrar to be amended.
However, if your domain name registrar is Australian based they may require you to go through the same internal processes (and fee payments) that they require for transferring ownership/registration for .au domain names.
.au Domain Name Quirks
.au sites are governed by quite complex legal rules, and require detailed paper trails for each change. http://auda.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/200012959-How-do-I-transfer-my-domain-name-to-another-registrant-
Although auDa doesn’t charge any fees for the transfer of ownership process, all Australian domain name registrars charge fees ranging from $18 – $300 per name transfer, with $150-$180 the average fee.
If your .au domain name is registered to your web host and not to you, and they are not willing to transfer it to you, you can lodge a formal complaint with the auDa http://auda.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201446470-What-if-my-web-host-has-registered-my-domain-name-using-their-details-instead-of-mine-
If you try the nice approach with the person your site is registered to and this fails, then unfortunately your next step is your lawyer to commence proceedings on your behalf.
Domain Name Tips & Tricks
If you have agreement and access to your domain registrar, and if you want to transfer your domains to the correct business entity, and want to save a few $ in the process there are a few strategies you can adopt. (Let’s face it – multiple domains at $180 per domain transfer really adds up financially),
1) For non .au domains – first transfer the domain name to a non-Australian domain name registrar (I use NameCheap in the USA). You will have to renew the domain for an additional year, but once that has gone through you can then amend the details from the domain name management panel. You can then either choose to leave the domain registration with NameCheap or transfer it back to an Australian domain name registrar at a later date.
2) For .au domains – first transfer the relevant domain name from your domain name registrar to one of the registrars that charge lower ownership transfer fees. Usually the transfer of domain names between registrars in in Australia is free. I use Netfleet in Australia for this particular process, but it pays to shop around as prices change all the time.
Then use the transfer of ownership option from their management panel and pay less than $20 per transfer, compared to the standard $150-$180 of other domain name registrars. The advantage of Netfleet is it is all done online and doesn’t require scanned forms to be emailed at ten paces.
Again, once the process is completed, you can transfer the names back to your preferred domain name registrar at a later date.
Of course, if in any doubt, speak with your lawyer (if they understand IT), or a specialist IT Lawyer (IdeaLaw is exceptional) and they will help you walk through the legal side of things; or your new web host if you need help with the technical side of things.