As a web designer I am often approached by clients who want an existing website redesigned or totally redeveloped.
In many cases, these clients have never had to access their website’s admin area, or their hosting account, or their domain name account because someone originally set all these things up for them.
When I set up a website for a new client, I make a point of encouraging them to register the domain themselves: although I would love to perform this step for them and spare them the trouble, I think it is unethical to tell a client you are registering a domain for them, when in reality you are registering it under your own name.
It is even more unethical (and potentially illegal) if you then charge that client for yearly domain renewals, since in effect you own that domain.
Unfortunately many people think they own a certain domain name until they try to get access to it, and then realise they have been conned. By then, it may be too late. The designer who registered the domain has either:
1. disappeared – or
2. stopped trading – or
3. fallen out with the client for whatever reason
In any case, they are unlikely to relinquish control of the domain.
Do I own my domain name?
This is surprisingly easy to check, yet few people think of doing it. Go to https://who.is (for .com domains) or http://www.nominet.uk/whois (for .uk domains) and type in your domain to see what information is publicly available. In most cases, the registrant’s details are listed – this is where so many people get nasty surprises.
You can also find out other useful information such as – where the domain is hosted. In many cases the registrar and host are two completely different companies, and you need to get access to both of those – though the domain is the most important one (hosting can be moved if you have control of the domain, but it doesn’t work the other way round).
Someone else owns my domain! What can I do?
You just need to read back the question to realise the tragic contradiction: someone else owns that domain – they registered it, therefore it is theirs, not yours. The domain name may sound like the name of your company, or even your own name, you may have run your business from that domain for years and years and have millions of hits every day- none of that changes the fact that the domain is registered to someone else. They own it.
Is that it then? Is it the end of the road?
Not necessarily. In some cases you may be able to prove that you have a reasonable claim to a domain. It helps if you have kept copies of any correspondence with the person who set up your website, even better if he/she charged you for domain renewals and you kept the invoices and receipts for those payments.
In the UK, Nominet is the body that regulates domain names and will mediate in case of disputes:
However, be prepared for a lengthy and potentially expensive process. If the case goes to an independent adjudicator, you will be expected to pay between £200 and £750 + VAT regardless of the final decision – in other words, you may have to pay and still not get the domain. There is no guarantee that you will win, no matter how much you are willing to pay.
When you come to us at WebRightNow, expect to end up with a website that you fully own. The domain will be registered to you or your limited company; we will give you full access to a hosting control panel from which your web pages and email accounts can be controlled; since we only use Content Management Systems for our websites, you will also have full administrator access to your CMS – yes, we trust you not to break anything…
Your website should belong to you, not your designer. It upsets me deeply when I see honest people being tricked by unscrupulous “designers”. The quotation marks are there because someone like that is unlikely to spend any time actually designing a website, you can bet your life that whatever they build will be template based and hardly customised.
It’s a nasty world out there…