Who owns your website... you, or someone else?
A very good question that no one asks… but they should.
I run into this problem almost daily, a domain and website that is owned by someone other than the person or business who claim it. What do I mean you ask? In short I mean that you may not actually own your domain or website. This is something you should check in to!
Now owning your website could be caused by a few of different scenarios, but first let me explain something about the terminology I will use so you won’t be confused. When you see a website, like for example “mycompanysite.com”, this is both the domain name and the name of the website - they are one and the same. Some people call this a “website name” but it is actually referred to as the “domain name” or simply “domain” so the later is how I will refer to it. With this out of the way, let’s move on…
I worked for a professional gambler in Las Vegas for awhile who had a website and he hired me to manage and promote. He had the domain registered to his company and had a web designer build the website for him a couple years before I started working for him. I checked into his site when I began working for him and saw that the domain was in his company name, but a few months went by and I was checking for another domain that he wanted to register and found that a change had been made to his existing domain. The original domain ownership had been transferred to an employee who was the accountant for the gambler. The accountant was now the legal owner of the domain… and the website.
I brought this to the attention of the gambler and he had no knowledge of the transfer or had authorized any changes, so he asked me to look further into the matter. What had happened was the accountant (also an amateur web designer) who was responsible for paying the hosting plan for the website had transferred the ownership of the domain over into his name without authorization. This could also happen to you without you knowing it.
What you need to know and fully understand is that all domains, and website's attached to them, have a registration proving legal ownership. The owner of any domain is defined by name as the “registrant” and is registered with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), where every website is registered. The name of the owner, the registrant, has full legal ownership and power over any domain that is registered to them, and the website for that domain. That brings us to the next question, how can you be affected by this?
Let’s say that you thought up a domain like mycompanysite.com for your new website and you want to register the domain before someone else does. If you do it yourself, then chances are that no mix-up can occur, but that still could become a problem later. If you hire an outsider, an employee or anyone to register your new domain they could register it under their name and you wouldn't know. A disgruntled employee can even change the domain ownership to their self or to another person without your knowledge, and all they would need to do this is your web hosting provider account log in information. Any of the above scenarios could turn into a serious problem for you. How you ask?
Just imagine that you have a website that brings you lots of customer’s and lots of income, but an employee transfers the domain ownership into their name without your knowledge. Something happens that makes the employee dislike you or you fire them, then they take your website down. You not only have lost all control of the domain and website, but you also lose future customers and income. They could also just do damage by changing your website information to advertise your products or services at a lower price, free of charge, or add services that are not included in a particular price. Then you could be obligated to honor the incorrect information, lose hundreds or thousands of dollars of income, and be stuck with an exhausting legal battle and mounds of attorney fees to try to regain ownership of your domain and website! Scary thought isn't it?
There are also many unscrupulous web designers out there who will register your domain as their own for reasons to many to mention here. To me this is an unacceptable business practice, and whenever I see this happen I report it to the owner whose name appears on the actual website via their contact information. A lady who owns a company in Las Vegas told me her horror story where a web designer that she had hired to build her a website for her business had put the domain in his name and not hers. He was also hosting her website for her and when she informed the guy that she wanted to transfer her domain to another web host for a lower monthly cost, he wouldn't let her. She got an attorney and after a couple months the guy finally let her have her domain and website, but only after he sabotaged all the links to the inner pages of the website so the pages would not appear when people clicked the links from the home page. So what can you do to avoid all this?
There is an easy way to avoid having these types of bad events happen to you. If you want to register a new domain, then do it yourself. If you hire someone to work on your website, put a domain transfer lock on your domain through your web hosting provider simply by calling their home office and asking for one, or do it from your web hosting control panel. Do this prior to giving any information to whoever you hire to work on your website. All that they would need anyway is just your FTP access log in information and not your web hosting provider account information, (FTP and account log ins should be different). Don’t give employees or anyone your hosting account information. This includes log in and password information, security keys, administrative email address etc. I suggest that you keep your web hosting account information in a secure place where nobody can access it. Lastly, only hire a reputable and honest website design company to do work on your website. That brings us to our main question…
How can I check to see if I own my domain?
This is easy! There is a few good website's where you can get this information for free. This type of search is called a “Whois” domain search. The website that I personally use and recommend is domaintools.com. You will see a box called “Whois Look up” near the top where you simply type in a domain name and click enter. This will bring up the name and contact information of the registrant, date the domain was registered, and more. The only thing is that if there is a name privacy guard requested with the web hosting provider from that registrant then the real registrants name and contact information will be hidden and only the privacy guard company contact information will appear. You can contact the registrant through this information via email and your message will be relayed to the real registrant, but you will not be able to obtain their information unless the registrant decides to reply directly to your message.
My suggestion; if you are in doubt or just curious to see if you really own your domain then perform a Whois look up and check. You can perform a Whois look up regularly to see if your ownership information has been changed, there are no fees to do a search. Do this and then contact your web hosting provider and request to have a domain transfer lock placed on all of your domains. This is usually a free service but a small fee may be charged to you depending on the web hosting provider you are using, and the fee amount may vary from a small monthly fee to a yearly fee. Either way, a domain transfer lock is well worth having. A domain transfer lock can be added by request from the domain registrant or a person listed as the domain administrator, and in some cases you can set it up yourself in your control panel of your domain hosting tools after logging in your web hosting provider’s website. You can also perform a Whois search for any domain that you may want to register for yourself in the future; this is to see if the domain is available for you or if it has already been taken.
I hope that this article has given you some more insight into the world of website's, the problems that can happen, and what to do to avoid them. Be sure to keep checking back to read more valuable articles and gain more knowledge.
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I wish you the best of luck with your website endeavors.