One of the most important “identities” to a business in the current age of online everything is their domain name. It is their business brand, it is the business name, it is how your business is known and found on the Internet.
But do you actually own your domain name? who owns this domain name?
Many business owners since the start of the Internet age have had the cold hard slap of reality in finding out that they don’t own the identity of their business on the Internet. And short of time-consuming and costly legal action, there is little you can do about it, particularly if you’re a small business. A large company has a staff of lawyers that can sort these problems out, but small business owners are paying for legal costs by the hour out of their own pocket.
First, let’s understand how domains are registered. There are top-level domain registrars throughout the world, accredited by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), to register names of domains. These companies are then responsible for maintaining the infrastructure that translates “yourdomain.com” into a network address that is used to find a computer connected to the Internet where your business web site resides.
Sounds relatively simple, right?
The problem with small businesses is that many of these businesses are technologically unsophisticated or do not have the time to become so. These businesses contract with a provider such as In Sync Web Design to build and create their web site, set up their hosting account and register the name of their site. But most businesses do not approach web providers with that specific a request – it’s usually more like “I need a web site and please make it happen,” leaving all the details to be decided by the provider.
Here is where your business identity is at risk. The “registrant contact” is the person who literally has life and death control over your web site name. If this “contact” is entered wrong, then the life of your business identity is literally in this person’s hands.
What’s even worse is that there are more than a few unscrupulous web providers in our industry. These providers will knowingly register their client’s web site in their own name or company’s name, knowing full well that they then have a stranglehold over that web site’s Internet existence in the event a business relationship sours. To also be fair, sometimes this improper registration happens by accident – a project is in a rush and the person responsible for registering the domain inadvertently makes a wrong selection. It does happen.
In the latter case, the provider will simply correct the error and properly update the registrant contact information. No harm was done and good providers will be more than willing to work with their clients to correct these errors.
In the case of a malicious attempt to control a client’s web site, there is not much that can be done after the fact. Yes, there are legal routes that can be undertaken, but that route will be time-consuming as well as costly. Most small businesses caught in this situation simply elect to abandon the web site name and start over.
Or if your business has contracted with a small provider such as an individual designer and that person simply vanishes, your web site name is in limbo and the life of your web identity totally out of your control.
This mistake can be costly to your business identity, your marketing message and your business brand. In an extreme case, it could possibly put your business out of business. Registrars will not help you either, if you are not the registrant contact, all the pleading and begging will fall totally on deaf ears.
So how do you avoid this unhappy situation as a business owner buying web site services?
The answer is to be an educated buyer when building or buying your web site. Understand that ownership of your business “name” on the Internet is critically important and any agreement you make with any provider should clearly state who owns the web site name. This agreement should be contractually binding as well, which makes enforcement of a breach of contract far easier should something unpleasant come to pass in the future.
Once your provider has registered the name for your new web site, that provider should be willing to provide a documented printout from the registrar showing exactly who owns and who has control of your business’s identity. If it’s not you or your authorized surrogate, the time to correct that omission is now and a very firm conversation with that provider must be had. Most inadvertent errors will be corrected without a problem.
If the provider is unwilling or seems to be uncommitted to resolving this problem, then the time is also now to find a new provider, which hopefully would be at minimum cost to your business at this point in the web site development process.
The other solution to this problem is to be a part of the registration process. An honest and ethical provider will have no problem with you sitting right there at the computer with them when a web site name is registered. The key thing you as the owner have to watch out for is that you are the “registrant contact” when the name is registered. I would recommend this process if you’re a start-up business with a really hot idea with a unique company name. After all, you would not want to lose the next “eBay.com” or “Amazon.com” domain name by accident, would you?