Are you really the ruler of your own domain?

Mario Rashid-Ring

Why is it important?

Whilst domain names are important in a technical sense in that they serve as a link to websites, their real value – particularly in a business context – is actually much greater.

They serve a marketing purpose similar to trademarks, in that they are often comprised of distinguishing words which reflect and complement a brand. They are also commonly utilised for operations and sales purposes, with email systems allowing communication between employees and customers and, in some circumstances, providing a direct link to online purchasing.

Given that domain names do serve such an important role, it only makes sense that they receive the same attention as other business assets.

What is the issue?

As with any other business asset, a primary concern should be the protection of your ownership of the domain name. The issue that arises, however, is that what you believe may be your business domain may actually be owned by someone else.

It depends on a number of factors:

When does this happen?

A recent example involved my client, an Australian company, which had previously contracted with an independent IT specialist to register a domain name and create the company website, and to provide ongoing maintenance of the domain and site.

Unbeknownst to my client, the IT specialist had registered the domain name in his own personal name. Also, without my client’s knowledge or consent he registered another domain name which also included my client’s name. Whilst the relationship between the parties was on foot, the issue of ownership was not raised or discussed. However, as soon as my client terminated the relationship, the IT specialist tried to hold my client to ransom. 

The IT specialist advised that he had registered the domain name in his own name, and demanded that my client purchase the domain name from him otherwise he would shut the domain name down and, in effect, destroy my client’s website and communication system – one which was used by hundreds of its staff and customers on daily basis and was vital for my client’s business.

Fortunately, my client was strategic and responded accordingly by engaging Coleman Greig immediately, and we were then able to successfully negotiate the transfer of the domain name into the name of my client at minimal cost.

To my client’s credit they also had a back-up domain which they could rely upon in the event that the IT specialist carried out his threat – however, this was ultimately not needed.

What can you do?

Find out who really owns your domain name. If unsure, we can help.

If you don’t actually own your domain name and it is instead registered to the IT service provider, contact us immediately. It is more cost effective to correct any error in registration now rather than when it becomes contested.

Ensure that you have a back-up domain name which can be engaged as a last resort in order to minimise any loss occasioned by any adverse action taken against your domain name.

In future, when you contract with the independent IT service provider, ensure that the domain name will be registered in the name of your business. It’s best to put this contract in writing and to ask for a copy of the registration details to ensure compliance.  

If you have any questions about any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact:    

Mario Rashid-Ring, Lawyer
Phone: +61 2 9895 9223