• November 22, 2010 at 9:24 am#63932

    I’ve been encountering a growing number of clients who are having great difficulty getting control of their domain names from previous website developers. I suggest you all check who your domain is actually registered to. If it is not your name I suggest getting it changed. But be careful! If you are not tactful in getting the present “owner” to sign it over to you it could cost you big legal costs to get it back!

    Problem

    The domain name is registered in the developer’s name and when the shop owner decides they want someone else to do their website work the previous developer refuses to transfer the domain to them. In one case I was involved in the developer wanted big $$$ to release the domain – basically extortion.

    If you forfeit or walk away from the domain name, it and the online reputation of your business can be sold to the highest bidder. Yes these domains have value on the open market. If the domain has been online for over a year it has gained a certain degree of traffic which has value. These domains are commonly sold to people ($50 to many thousands) who slap up a link website to take advantage of the traffic the domain generates. If you don’t want people looking for your website finding a link site advertising pornography or other garbage you need to get control and protect your domain.

    In the eyes of the domain Registrar (eg. GoDaddy, Registrar.com, etc.) the person or company named as the domain’s registrant is the owner. So if the website developer enters their name as the registrant when they register (purchase) the domain they are technically the “owner”.

    What they should be doing is registering you as the owner (Registrant) and themselves as the Technical Contact. They either don’t know what they are doing or it is a very intentional act.

    There is a domain dispute resolution process but it is expensive and time consuming. Most of these trouble maker rely on the fact that most shop owners don’t want to spend $2k to $5k just to recover what is lawfully yours. They know they will lose the dispute, but since losing the dispute doesn’t cost them anything, financially or legally, they just ignore you.

    Who is doing this?

    The worst offenders are the big directory advertising companies, telephone companies, and Internet Service Providers. Some developers who are subcontracted by brand name auto industry chains are also very bad. If you got a ‘free’ domain name with your website it is highly likely it is not registered in your name.

    Why do they do it?

    Initially these developers are being helpful. In the end they are being lazy or just nasty.

    Most times business owners signed up for these websites because it were a freebie that was thrown in with some other deal. Or the business owner wanted a website that was quick and easy to setup. The trouble is the people you deal with are essentially commission sales people. Beyond the initial sale they have no interest in helping you. Once they think your leaving (stop paying) they no longer want to speak to you or do anything for you. There is nothing in it for them so they can’t be bothered. And there is nothing in the domain control regulations that requires them to transfer the domain to you. It is up to you to prove that you are the rightful owner. The really bad ones may try to use the domain ownership issue as leverage to keep you as a client for as long as possible.

    How Domain Registration Works

    Each domain has three main contacts or individuals named on the registration. The Registrant Contact is the owner. The Administrative Contact manages the domain and has physical control of the domain. The Technical Contact can make or request technical setting changes for the domain. The person who has the password and email account on record for the administrative contact has overall control of the domain name.

    What Control Should You Have

    1) You MUST be registered as the owner of the domain (Registrant).

    2) You SHOULD have Administrative control of the domain.

    3) If you don’t want responsibility for managing your domain you can grant administrative control to another person. But there is some risk of losing your domain if you do not monitor what they are doing. The administrative password has ultimate control over the domain account. Technically the person with this password could change the owner’s name and claim it as theirs, sell your domain, or refuse to renew it so it goes into default and you loose it for non-payment. A common scenario is the disgruntled employee who changes the administrative password just before they quit and then denies any knowledge of it. It is a BIG hassle to get control of a domain where you do not have control of the email address that is registered to the domain. If it happens just before the domain is due for renewal there is a high risk of loosing the domain when it is put back on the open market for sale..

    What Can You Do?

    At a minimum you should be registered as the owner. If not, you need to get that changed. You should also get control over the domain.

    My suggestions:

    1) check the WHOIS record on your domain to see who is the registered owner. All domain registrars have a WHOIS search feature. You enter your domain name and WHOIS displays the public record for the domain.

    2) If your not the Registrant Contact you need to get that changed (see cautions on doing this below!),

    3) transfer the domain to a domain registrar of your choice and control,

    4) make yourself the Registrant Contact and use an administrative password so only you and someone you trust (your lawyer?) know it (if you lose or forget this password your in big trouble). Use an Registrant Contact email address that ONLY you have access to. This is vital! If someone else can get into this email account they can change your administrative password, approve the change, and steal the domain name.

    5) assign your web developer as your Technical Contact so they can do what they need to do but do not have control over the domain ownership. Some domain management controls do not allow for separate contact logins. This is where the secure email address provides a degree of protection, AND monitoring this email account regularly, is so essential! If you have to give your web developer your Administrative password at least you will be notified if they try to do anything with the domain and you can stop it.

    6) Your domain name is very valuable and grows more so over time. Treat it like a valuable asset.

    Caution – How To Get Them To Cooperate

    It is in your best interests to use a very calm, pleasant, tactful approach in getting control of your domain. I can’t emphasize this enough! The objective is to get them to freely cooperate. It will cost you lots to force them to do it!

    1. Don’t tell them your building a new website!

    2. Don’t tell them their service sucks and your taking your business elsewhere!

    3. Do tell them your “lawyer” advised you your domain was a valuable asset and that it would be best if you take over management of your domain name.

    4. Explain you DON’T want to cancel the website. Only transfer the domain. First reason is that you don’t want to raise their suspicions and have them refuse to help you; and second, if you are planning to build a new website you want to keep the old website operating until you are ready to switch so you don’t loose all the SEO value you have build up for your domain name. Many have had their website accounts immediately cancelled and the domains SEO is seriously damaged and the have no website until the domain dispute is settled often many months later.

    5. Explain you just want to TRANSFER the domain to yourself. This way they should be willing to take the 5 minutes it takes to approve the transfer if they think you will remain a paying customer. (Get a domain registrar account and read up on how to transfer a domain. Or get a trusted website developer to do it for you. Most transfers take 5-7 business days.)

    Fighting Back

    If they give you a hard time or refuse to cooperate you can try the following. Try to maintain a pleasant, non-threatening tone. They have the upper hand and there is nothing to be gained from antaganizing them:

    1. Explain that you have used the domain for a length of time now, and so it now falls under trademark law, and you are fully untitled to ownership of it. If that’s not enough…

    2. Explain that there is an International Domain Registration dispute resolution process through the domain registrar, but you would rather not get lawyers involved and all the cost both in dollars and bad press for their company. The dispute is posted online in a worldwide registrar. Sort of like a court record. Would be a shame to have their company listed there. Also that domain registrars don’t like customers (them) who don’t play by the rules and cause problems, and it would be a shame it you had to file a complaint against them with the registrar. If that’s not enough…

    3. Explain that it would be really bad for their reputation if your bad experiences dealing with them were written about and seen by tens of thousands of other shop owners who read the International Automotive Technicians Network IATN forum, the Automotive Management Network forum, Facebook and Twitter for a start… Social reputation is such a powerful thing these days and bad news travels fast… Also helps if you mention your going to cc all your postings to their boss and any other manager in the company and any company associated to them you can find! Almost all have OK’ed the domain transfer in a matter of hours when this one is used! If that’s not enough…

    4. A few clients have had success with a strongly worded letter from their lawyer suggesting that they are in the wrong and should transfer the domain to you…

    5. Worst case is to file request for a formal Domain ownership dispute resolution.

    Good luck!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm#71588
    DavidE
    Member

    This is great information. Every shop owner should read this and follow its instruction. There are so many web companies calling shops and wanting to “help them” by setting up an inexpensive website for them.

    It would be good to do a post about hosting of the shops website and the importance of having control of that also.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:57 pm#71592

    Excellent post and great information. We do own ours, but I can see where there could be substantial problems for others just as described. Thank you for taking the time to advise others as to this issue!

    November 23, 2010 at 9:35 pm#71594

    Dave Eastman wrote:

    > It would be good to do a post about hosting of the shops website and the importance of having control of that also.

    Thanks for the comment Dave.

    Hosting control is not as much of an issue as domain ownership and control. Sure you can run into web developers who can pull the same tricks as with domain name control, but website ‘ownership’ issues are usually not a problem if ownership is CLEARLY defined in your user agreement or design contract BEFORE hiring them.

    There are rare cases where the website developer has built a website and claims to retain ownership due to ‘artistic’ rights. This was more common years ago when most web designers were artists and considered their websites a piece of ‘art’ rather than a service they were hired to perform. These problems are almost unheard of today. This is where that ownership clause in your website development contract covers your butt.

    If you do have a problem most website hosting companies will give you control if you can provide documentation that you are the owner and have a right to control. This is usually much easier than domain ownership issues. Websites are nowhere as valuable as domain names so ownership control is not so anal.

    Website Ownership

    There are two ways to purchase a website. First is the traditional way where you hire a website designer who builds you a custom website from scratch. When the website is finished the designer gives you the files, you find a web host and put your website online. You own the files and are responsible for your website from that point on. You have total control of your website and also total responsibility for maintaining it.

    Second way to buy a website is the ‘Website As a Service’ model. Each website gets a personalized custom design but uses a common, highly refined backend system that your website runs on. (This is NOT a template website! Your website has a custom look and content configured to suit your business.) With this model you own the content, text and photos, that your provide, but you do not own the system that displays your website. With Website As a Service the cost of development is shared by all clients and dramatically lowers the individual website cost.

    To help you understand the difference I’ll use packaged software as an example. When you buy a piece of software you don’t ‘own’ the software. You have only purchased the ‘right’ to use the software. You do not get the ‘source code’ or programming that makes the software work. To get the source code you would need to pay the creators of the software a lot more to pay for all their costs to develop the software. Paying $200 for a program like MS Word is a very small price to pay for something that cost hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of dollars to develop. The other advantage to ‘leasing’ software is support. If you owned the software outright you would be responsible for solving your own bugs and security issues.

    With Website As a Service you pay for setting up your website on the system and a support fee to maintain both your individual website and the system it runs on.

    Hosting vs Support

    There is big difference between website ‘hosting’ and ‘support’ or full service hosting.

    Website “Hosting” refers to providing a web server where your website is placed. You are only paying for ‘space’ on a web server, email server, and the maintenance of the infrastructure, hardware, software, and Internet connection, which displays your website on the Web. Hosting does not include any services related to the files or computer code which compose your website. Hosting is a very small part of the cost of keeping your website online and operating correctly.

    Website “Support” is where you get the services of an Internet Professional who manages and cares for your website. Often website support will include website hosting as a convenience to the client. Basically support is an economical alternative to paying for website care on an as needed basis at full hourly rate.

    With today’s complex websites there is a great deal of routine maintenance required. Most websites are now being built on Content Management Systems (CMS) which require regular security updates and database maintenance. This is usually beyond the abilities of most shop owners and they need someone to care for their website. Support plans are an economical way to have someone monitor and keep their website performing as it should.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:17 pm#71595
    GUY
    Member

    As a web designer, I agree. You should own your own domain. I used to do it the way that has been described in this post as a way of being convenient but I quickly saw the problems it could cause.

    I’ve since transferred all domains I had registered to their proper owners and all new sites I develop that need a domain get registered to the proper owner. I even walk them through the process if they need help doing so.

    If something ever happens to your web developer make sure you own the domain and the have full access to the hosting provider as well.

    February 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm#73470
    rayrippey
    Participant

    While creating a website is secondary to our main business, and we do it as a convenience for our customers, we make sure the customer can ‘take over’ anytime they want or need to. 

    First, we do resell websites so we make a little money. If we’re not making some money, you’re right, we wouldn’t care as much. However the client pays a normal fee for the hosting, domain, and business registration (optional).. we get it wholesale.
    Then, we have the client sign up themselves. We walk them through the process, but this way they create their own account, and they have all the passwords. They then send us the passwords so we can publish web pages to their website. We can also walk clients through setting up an admin account so they still have more control, all we do is publish.
    If the client feels confident, they can purchase the web editor (about $50), and we give them the files so they can make modifications themselves. We have no problem with that, we’re a software development company so websites are an add-on.
    If we go out of business or get hit by a truck and quit paying for our reseller account, nothing happens. The account is owned and can be operated by the client. They are free to have someone else modify it or transfer it, like they are anytime anyway. The website will not go away if the reseller account goes away. We made sure of that in the beginning. 
    Some website developers shortcut the process and try and resell using an account they have (not a reseller account created by the company (Godaddy, hostgator, etc.) and put other domains on their account. This is a real problem for the clients because the developer has too much control, and if he/she quits, your website is gone, and you might lose the domain name (as you stated above).
    But there are so called developers that are short sighted, only think about themselves. Just because a developer dies or quits shouldn’t mean that the clients get burned.
    Great article.
    Ray Rippey
    Digital Wrench Software
    March 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm#73513
    Allen44
    Member

    Hey, wow, crazy.

    I do my own website, so that has never really been an issue for me, but I can see how less internet-minded shop owners might fall prey to this kind of slimy tactics. Always make sure the domain is in your name!
    And thanks for the in-depth post, I’m sure it’ll help many people.
    January 8, 2016 at 12:30 am#74253
    Nivin17
    Member

    Make sure your domain is secure and yours by going through this check list:

    Verify that registered name matches the name of the business.

    If you use a privacy service, verify that their information matches the name of the business.

    Verify that you have access to the domain’s account at the domain registrar by logging in.

    Change the password to the registrar account and keep it in a secure place.

    Make a backup copy of all account logins and passwords. Keep the copy in a different physical location.

    Ensure that at least two people know where this information is stored.

    Consider using meta-addresses for the domain contact email addresses. Then either have the responsible person add this account to their mail client, or have it forwarded. This way if you change staff, you can ensure that domain related mail gets through without needing to update your domain registrar.

    Send a test mail to all addresses for the domain (administrative, technical, and billing). Make sure a trusted and responsible person gets each test message.

    If you have to give a third party access to your registration or hosting accounts, change your password once the work is complete. Make sure you update your backup copies with the new passwords. Java training in chennai | Android training in chennai

    January 8, 2016 at 2:51 pm#74254
    pbrennan
    Member

    Great advice!

    I’ve heard a lot of horror stories and experienced it first hand when a company didn’t want to give up a website. Make sure you own all intellectual property. Most hosting plans have tools that allow you to give access to a manager to manage your domain settings & hosting.
    This doesn’t just go for your website / domains, however. It should apply to all creative, ad copy, etc that you have any company do. Have standard language that you use or tell your vendors that you will own all intellectual property rights, and want all source files.
    October 28, 2016 at 4:32 am#74584
    gopi
    Member

    I’ve heard a lot of horror stories and experienced it first hand when a
    company didn’t want to give up a website. Make sure you own all
    intellectual property. Most hosting plans have tools that allow you to
    give access to a manager to manage your domain settings & hosting.

    March 24, 2017 at 7:31 am#74686

    It is a vital piece of every business to own your own domain name. You lose that, you lose a lot.

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