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Who Owns Your Domain Name?

Your domain name is your web address, or the part after the @ in your email address. Our domain is gartnertechnology.com. Who owns your domain name anyway? Sounds like a pretty simple question, doesn’t it? Technically, the question is “Who holds the rights to your domain name?” According to Google:

A registrant is the registered holder of a domain. A registrant holds the “rights” to a domain for the duration of the registration period. A domain’s registration can be renewed indefinitely, up to 10 years at a time. A registrant is considered the “owner” of the domain.

https://support.google.com/domains/answer/3251189?hl=en#zippy=%2Cregistrant retrieved on July 19th, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. CDT

Who holds the rights to your domain name?

Do you know the answer to this question? Many turnkey sites like Weebly and Shopify walk you through the process of registering your domain name and you are the registrant, or owner of your domain name, but typically, the person or company that set up your website and/or manages your email is the registrant. So if it wasn’t you, then who? Why does it matter?

First, a few definitions:

Domain Registrar or registrar: an entity that facilitates the registration of a domain name. A few examples, IONOS, GoDaddy, Network Solutions, etc.

Domain Registrant or registrant: a person or entity that owns the rights to a domain name.

Let’s answer the latter first. For the purpose of this post, the registrant of your domain controls access to your website and email. If that registrant is not you or your company, you run the risk of losing access to your email and website permanently, should the relationship with your domain’s current registrant change. Any number of things can happen in this regard.

A local web developer recently “dropped off the face of the earth”, leaving all of their clients with no access to their website, email, or domain name. I interacted with at least 5 of these businesses. There is little recourse to get access to a domain name if you are not the registrant even if you can prove company ownership and previous use of the domain. Basically, you can wait until the registration period expires and hope that you can register your domain name before a reseller gets it. A reseller will charge you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars to sell you the rights to your domain. There is a dispute procedure, but this can be time and resource consuming. See https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/dndr-2012-02-25-en for information about disputes.

What can we do to protect our domain name?

First, let’s do a bit of research: who is your domain’s current registrant? There is a tool to determine who is the legal registrant of your domain. This tool is called whois. I use the one on the ICANN site because ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the authoritative source for top level domains in the U.S. When I perform a whois lookup for google.com, this is what I get:

Domain Information

Dates

  • Registry Expiration: 2028-09-14 04:00:00 UTC
  • Created: 1997-09-15 04:00:00 UTC
Contact Information

Administrative:

  • Mailing Address: CA, US
  • Redacted for privacy: some of the data in this object has been removed.

Registrant:

  • Organization: Google LLC
  • Mailing Address: CA, US
  • Redacted for privacy: some of the data in this object has been removed.

Technical:

  • Mailing Address: CA, US
  • Redacted for privacy: some of the data in this object has been removed.
Registrar Information
  • Name: MarkMonitor Inc.
  • IANA ID: 292
  • Abuse contact email: [email protected]
  • Abuse contact phone: +1.2083895770

Let’s unpack this. I’ve removed some of the listing for simplicity. We want to look at contact information and registrar. The contact information will tell you who the registrant is, along with administrative contact information and technical contact information. Any of these three contacts have the authority to manage the domain name, even if one of the others listed is not available. We can also find when the domain registration expires on this page. A caveat: some domain registrations are private so none of this information will be available. You’ll have to talk to your IT person or your website/email manager for this information.

If you find that you or your organization are the registrants for your domain, good! There is nothing else to do. If you see that an entity outside of your control is the registrant, you can take steps to secure your rights to your domain.

You can have your current registrant make you either the administrative contact, or the registrant of the domain name. As long as they have access to your domain registration though, they can remove you as a contact just as easily. This is a good place to start though. Once you are a contact on the registration, you can unlock the domain and initiate a transfer to the registrar of your choice under your company name, if you so choose. Some registrars are IONOS, GoDaddy, Network Solutions, etc. I have not linked to any of these sites so as to avoid any conflict of interest. You can search for domain registrar or domain registration in your favorite search engine.

The other option is to simply transfer the domain registration from the current registrant to yourself. The domain will need to be unlocked and a transfer code generated. This can be done by the existing registrant. This does require some expertise though as some of the technical stuff on the back-end needs to be in place to make sure that your website and email continue to function. Tech support should be able to assist you. Just let them know that you are transferring in an existing domain and want to make sure that DNS doesn’t get messed up. As a point of reference, a .com domain typically costs $20.00 per year to register, .net and .us are typically a bit more, while a custom domain like .jewelry, can cost up to $70.00 per year.


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