Ownership of Domains: A Small Issue that May Become a Big Problem

Posted on Monday, October 6th, 2014

Domain names are often one of the main identifiers of a business, its identity, its intellectual property and its website. A domain name generally corresponds to a certain IP (Internet Protocol) resource or address within the Domain Name System (essentially, the phone/address book for the internet).

Ownership of domain names is different than many other types of property. There is no physical possession, no certificate, and no government issued title. To have ownership of a domain name, one must be listed as the registrant or registered owner with the domain name registrar. The ownership registry for domain names is called the WHOIS database that is shared among the various domain name registrars.

Many businesses fail to register domain names in the name of the business. Many businesses have an employee or independent contractor register the company domain name without even considering who the registrant should be. Often, the employee or independent contractor simply enters his/her own name and contact information as the registrant or registered owner. This incorrect registration can cause delays and problems for a business that is looking to engage in any one of many different types of transactions. Although the business entity may have avenues for recourse against the employee or independent contractor (or former employee or independent contractor), through the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure, Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, or other means, these avenues are uncertain, can be costly, and should be avoided by ensuring that domain names are properly registered in the name of the proper business entity before such problems arise.

Preferably, one or more responsible parties within each business entity (e.g. a CIO or CTO) should have responsibility for registering domain names in the company name, and for monitoring and renewing such domain names. Under no circumstances should a business entity cede control of the registration of domains to an outside consultant or other third party without a clear written agreement regarding ownership of the domains, modifications to domain name registration info, and transfers of such domains upon demand. Such written agreements should contain an agreement from the non-business entity party to authorize domain name registrars to follow the business entity’s directions in regard to domain name registration info, transfers, etc., grant a power of attorney to accomplish the same, or both.

Without taking the steps above, a business entity may lose sale opportunities, business opportunities, time and money, in dealing with domain name registration problems.