Are You the Owner of Your Domain?
Last week one of my friends posted on Facebook that she had forgotten to renew her domain and it had expired. She was frustrated because the domain was for her business and of course since it was expired, her website had gone offline. I wasn't sure how familiar she was with domains and how they work, so I commented on the post to let her know that since her domain was a .COM, she still had 40 days past expiration to renew it. She was very happy to hear this, but unfortunately for her, renewing the domain and getting her website back online wasn't as easy as it should be. This is because she is not actually the owner of her domain.
After a few exchanges with her I came to this realization, and after checking the domain's Whois, I confirmed that she was in fact not the owner of her domain. The domain was actually owned by the company that she built her website on (I won't name any names). The company advertises domain registration with their website services, but it's not the same type of domain registration you get with an actual domain registrar. Instead they are what is considered a domain reseller. They register the domain on your behalf, but they are the true owner. Unfortunately what this means for my friend is that she is pretty much stuck using them and stuck paying whatever price they demand for future renewals (which I would guess is more than the $9.99 our customer's pay for .COM domains).
Unfortunately, if you are in this situation, there are few options to get your domain. Basically, the only way to get it is to wait out the 40 day grace renewal period and the 30 day redemption period and hope that the company who owns your domain decides to let it go. However, even if they let it go, there is no guarantee it won't be picked up by someone else before you can get it. Many registrars, including us, offer expired auctions where people can bid on domains that have expired. Also, many registrars, again including us, offer a drop catching service, which attempts to grab domains that are about to be re-released. Depending on how desirable your domain is, it might get picked up the instant it's re-released and even if you have placed a backorder on your domain, there is no guarantee it will be you who catches it.
Ultimately my friend decided that she didn't want to wait 70+ days to get her business website back online, nor did she want to risk losing her domain. Instead she simply renewed it with the company that owns it. In her case, she has already spent time building her business, so keeping her domain name is very important. She does, of course, have the option to let that domain go and simply register another one, but that certainly isn't an easy option for a small business owner.
Unfortunately, there are several companies out there who offer "domain registration", but are actually resellers. Now, I'm not saying that these companies are bad, but I am a strong believer in owning your own domain. If you are a small business owner, you need to make sure that your name is listed in the domain's Whois - not your webmaster's name, not the name of the company that made your website, and not the name of your teenage employee who is better at the computer than you! Domain ownership is determined by whose name is listed in the Whois as the owner. Even if you are the owner of the company, if someone else is listed as the owner of your domain and they leave and don't give you access to your domain, there really isn't much you can do to get your domain back other than wait out that 75 days and hope you can get it when it's re-released.
The same is true when a reseller company owns your domain. In fact, I would bet that most resellers have their customers agree to have the reseller be the owner of their domain in the fine print. So, I guess the moral of the story is: be careful where you register your domain (and be careful who you let register your domain a.k.a. limit it to you!).
If you aren't sure if you are the owner of your domain or not, you can do a Whois lookup to see if you are listed as the owner. For more information about how Whois works, check out our Privacy page.
Post by Robyn Norgan