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Your Domain Name and Your Legal Position

A domain name is your business’s identity on the internet. You should own your domain name. Why? Well imagine the following scenarios:

  • You have asked a web developer to redesign your website or you want to change your hosting provider, but you don’t own the domain name.
  • You find out that a former employee or the person who designed your website owns your domain name.

How can this happen? Actually, it is very easy and it happens more often that you might think:

  • A business owner hires a web designer or developer to design their new website, they discuss domain names, and the developer finds that the domain name is available, buys it and registers it. All this is included in the fees you are charged for the website design.
  • A busy business owner asks their IT department or an employee to source some domain names for their new website. They discuss ideas, find one that is appropriate and available and the domain name is purchased and registered.

In both of these scenarios, the business owner is unaware that the domain name has not been registered in their name or by their company, it has been registered in the web developer’s name or company or in the name of the employee. In the case of the employee it may be a genuine misunderstanding of the registration process – but not always.

Whatever the cause, the fact is that if your domain name is registered to anyone other than yourself (the business owner) or your company – then you do not own your domain name.

Your legal position

If your domain name is owned by someone else, it can take months of court action and a lot of money to gain legal ownership of your domain. It might not even happen – in some cases businesses have had to purchase new domain names. In other cases, they have been charged hefty fees to transfer ownership.

You can go to the Ausregistry to check if a domain name is registered and to whom. Look for ‘Registrant’ – this is the name of the person or company that owns this domain.

If you find that you do not own your domain name – what can you do?

  • Contact the Registrant and ask them to transfer ownership into your name or your company’s name.
  • If they refuse, you can file a domain dispute. For .au domains go to AUDA.org.au and for .com/net/info/org/biz domains go to ICANN.org.
  • Wait until the domain name expires and register it in your name. However, if the Registrant is refusing to transfer ownership to you, they are unlikely to let their ownership lapse.

So make sure to purchase and register the domain name yourself and do not allow someone else to do this for you.