by Richard Keyt, Domain Name Law attorney
Are you sure you own your domain name? Chances are that neither you nor anybody in your company has ever checked to see who actually owns your domain name. It is very common for domain names to be owed by a company employee, a web site designer or an internet service provider. The initial owner (technically called the “licensee”) of a domain name is the person or entity that is listed as the “registrant” on the application for the domain name submitted to the domain name registrar.
Using the internet, it is very easy to determine who actually owns a domain name. A domain name is “owned” by or licensed to the person or entity shown as the “registrant” on the “whois” database of the registrar. The registrar is the name given to an entity that is authorized by ICANN to issue domain names to the public. The first and most well known registrar is Network Solutions, Inc. A “whois” database is a database maintained by all registrars that lists pertinent information about all domain names issued by the registrar. Each registrar’s Whois database may be searched online.
To check the ownership of a domain name, go to the Whois database of either Network Solutions or Better-Whois.com. Simply type in the name of the domain name and the top level domain name such as .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info or .name and click the search button. If the domain name is in the Whois database, the search results will display the following pertinent information about the domain name:
- Registrant: The person or entity listed here is the “owner” of the domain name.
- Administrative Contact: The person designated to receive communications from the registrar related to administration of the domain name.
- Billing Contact: The person designated to receive notices from the registrar concerning renewing the domain name by paying the registration fee.
- Technical Contact: The person designated to receive communications related to technical matters associated with the domain name.
- Record Expiration Date: The date the domain name will terminate and be revoked unless the renewal fee has been paid.
- Record Creation Date: The date the domain name was first issued to the registrant or the registrant’s predecessor.
Important Note: Any person or entity named as a contact on the Whois database has the power to adversely affect the domain name. Make sure the people who are named as administrative, billing and technical contacts are correct. These people should be trusted individuals or companies that will not use their power as designated contacts to adversely affect the domain name. The billing person should be somebody who can be trusted to make sure the domain name renewal fee is paid before the expiration date.
Verify that the names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers for the registrant and all contacts are correct. If any information is not correct or if you want to change any or all of the contacts, you should initiate the changes on your registrar’s web site. The fact that a domain name owner has incorrect information in the Whois database can be used against the registrant in disputes involving ownership of the domain name. See the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act FAQ.
Sometimes when you do a Whois search, you may not get much information other than the name of the registrar. Many of the registrars do not share domain name information or have access to other registrars’ Whois databases. If you cannot get the information you need when you do a Whois search, make a note of the name of the registrar and then go to the web site of the registrar to do the search for the domain name information. ICANN maintains a list of all accredited registrars with their contact information.
Domain names are valuable assets. By taking the time now to check the ownership record of your domain name, you may prevent the loss of your domain name in the future.