You own a domain name by having purchased (“registered”) it from a domain name registrar- a company like Go Daddy or Register.com. No certificate or title comes with it; registration is more like the book entry system in which your stock ownership is recorded on your broker’s books. The ownership registry for domain names is known as the WHOIS database, and is maintained in a database shared among all of the many domain name registrars.
The problem, however, is that many businesses fail to ensure that their ownership is properly recorded in their names. In many cases, companies ask their IT consultants to register their domains and manage their websites- and those consultants often register the domains in their own name.
Problems can – and do – develop when the company and its IT consultant, or its employee, come to disagreements or part company. We’ve seen these situations where consultants, or former employees, use their personal control of a company’s domain names as leverage in their disputes with the company- financial or otherwise. In these situations, the company has various remedies, such as claims under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, or under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure to which all domain name contracts are subject. But these disputes, and the costs and uncertainties they entail, can be avoided in the first place by following prudent business practices.
Ideally, companies should own domain names in their own name, not through intermediaries. The company should centralize control over domain names under a responsible officer. A knowledgeable employee should actively maintain the company’s domain names, and be responsible for attending to renewals and new registrations.
Alternatively, if a business really prefers to have an outside consultant handle its domains, it should have a clear written contract with that consultant, acknowledging that the domains belong to the company, not the consultant, and that they must be returned to the company’s explicit ownership on demand. Such a contract should contain a provision explicitly authorizing domain name registrars to follow the company’s directions with respect to its domains in the case of a conflict with the consultant. Most importantly, have all current user names and passwords to your business accounts on the internet. These simple steps can save a big hassle and a lot of money.