Here is an all too common scenario.  A new business is started, and the business owner needs a website.  He hires  a web design company, they discuss what is needed, agree on a price, and the web designer begins the process of building the website.  The web designer provides or purchases the web hosting package and the domain name, and the site is built.  So far, so good.

Now some time goes by, possibly even a year or two, and the business owner finds that his needs have changed.  He might feel that he's paying too much for hosting, or for updates, or he needs to add something to the website that the originally designer is unable to offer. He might need a more responsive company to maintain his site, or he might want someone new to totally redesign the site.

So the business owner contacts a new web designer who can offer the features and pricing that the business owner is looking for.  Problem solved, right?  Not really.  At this point, the business owner learns that when the domain name (or URL) for his company was purchased by the original web design company, it was not registered in his name or even in his company's name.  It turns out that the web design company has listed their company name or even worse, an employee's name, as the owner of the domain name.  Now what?

As far as the domain name registrar is concerned, the owner of the domain name is the person or entity that was listed when the domain name was purchased, and now shows up in the Whois database as the registrant.  For the most part, they will not be willing to help you to regain ownership of your domain name.  If you find yourself in this position, there are three ways to proceed:

The first is to ask the person or company listed as the registrant to transfer the ownership of the domain name to you.  This is the most straightforward way to resolve this issue, and hopefully the person or company you are dealing with will cooperate with your request.

If you cannot get the cooperation of registered owner, you may have to file a law suit to gain ownership of your domain name.  If you can establish that the domain name is rightfully yours, under the "Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy", the domain name will be transferred to you.

If you are unsuccessful with the first or second options, you may have to resign yourself to buying a new domain name for your company.  In that case, all of your existing marketing materials where your URL appears will also have to be changed.

Obviously, the best way to avoid this situation is to be proactive when choosing and purchasing your domain name.  Make sure that you either purchase it yourself, or that you are certain that the web design company will register the name properly.  That is, they will list you or your company as the owner of the domain name.  They can be listed as the administrative contact or the technical contact, or both, but you want to be sure that you (or your company) are listed as the owner of the domain name at the time it is purchased and registered.


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Comment by Elayne Morga on April 13, 2012 at 11:27am

No, if you purchased the domain name yourself, and listed yourself or your company as the owner, you're fine.  The problem I keep running into is that people have let their website designer purchase the domain name as part of the process, and then later find out that it was not registered in their name, but in the web designer's name, which now makes the web designer the owner. Another scenario might be that a company has an employee buy the domain name on their behalf, then the employee leaves the company and at some point the company finds out that the domain name is owned by the former employee, not the company.

Comment by Louis A Colabella on April 13, 2012 at 10:19am

So let me get this right. I purchased a domain from GODADDY, does this mean I really don't own it?


Comment by Olof Wadehn on November 4, 2011 at 9:16am
Elayne, what a valuable piece of information. I too have run across this problem over and over again when trying to help someone redesign or upgrade their website. Thanks.


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