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Third-Party Registrations: When Someone Else Registers a Domain For You

Sep 25, 2006 • 3 min read

Whether you're buying your domain services as part of a package through a web designer, or simply having your tech-savvy employee take care of it for you, there are a few things you need to know.

Most importantly, beware of how your designer, employee, or other third party handles the registration process, so as to avoid ownership disputes down the road. The inability to prove ownership is the biggest hazard people face when allowing a third-party to register domains on their behalf (also called "custodial registrations").

Take, for example, the story of Reva Raymond, who had six domains in her Dynadot customer account. Her web designer started the account and agreed to manage the account on Reva's behalf. Although the account was created in Reva's name, only one of the domains listed Reva as the Registrant of record in the ICANN Whois database. The other five domains were registered under the name of the web designer. When Reva lost her password and then lost access to her email account, she could no longer renew her domains, manage her nameservers, or make other modifications to her account. It ended up being a big headache having to validate her identity to the registrar in order to regain control of her account. To make matters worse, due to ICANN's policy of recognizing only the Whois Registrant as the legally-entitled domain holder, Reva eventually lost control over the five domains registered under the name of her web designer.

From Reva's story, we can see that the other issue is control. If you want to make changes to your website or nameservers, transfer your domains, renew your domain for additional years, or add other types of services like Privacy, you're going to need control over the domain name. But if a third party registered the domain for you, how do you know that you have complete control to get these things done? In Reva's case, she mistakenly left management control to her web designer and ended up losing a bundle.


What could Reva have done differently?

Top 5 Tips for Registering Domains Through Others


1. Make sure you're the Listed Registrant in the Whois Record. If you're not sure, simply do a Whois lookup. ( ICANN, the global authority on domain registration, recognizes only the listed Registrant in the Whois record as the legally-entitled domain holder. If your third party custodian did not list your name, and instead listed their own name, then legally speaking you have no rights to the domain.

2. Get the Username and Password. The username and password controls the customer account for the domains you register. If your son, friend, employee, web designer, or anyone else creates the account for you, insist that they give you the username and password. As the saying goes, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." If you control the domains (by controlling the customer account), you won't have to worry about ownership disputes down the road. Also, you won't have to hassle with a lazy web designer not implementing the changes you ask for. If the custodian refuses to share the information, and instead claims that he registered the domain using an account that contains other domains on behalf of other customers, then ask the custodian to move your domain to its own separate account.

3. Have a Contract with the Third Party. This may sound extreme, but if you get stuck in an ownership dispute with the third party who either maliciously or inadvertently listed their own name as the Registrant in the Whois record, you'll be glad you have a legally enforceable document that shows the intent of both parties. That is, you'll have a court-enforceable contract that names you as the intended registrant. This can only help your case if you get into a dispute with your custodian.

4. Pay for the Domain Yourself. If the domain is paid for by the third party's billing information, it's going to look like you are trying to hijack the domain from that third party. If the domain is paid using your own billing information, it will help substantiate your claim that this is indeed a custodial registration situation.

5. Assess how well you Know and Trust the Custodian. We strongly advise our customers to avoid going through unknown third parties and perfect strangers with whom you have no personal relationship. If you register through a third party company, that company might go out of business and you might lose control over your domains permanently. If you register using an employee at your company, that employee might quit one day and take the domains with them. If you register using your teenage son, he might go off to college someday and forget to give you access to the domains. You don't want to be stuck in the position of chasing down these people, so be sure it's someone you trust and someone you'll always be able to get in touch with.

The last bit of advice we can offer is simple: Learn to register and manage domains yourself. It sounds a lot harder than it is. But, in fact, registering a domain on your own is pretty easy. It's just like online shopping for any other product. You browse by searching for available domains, place the domains you want in a shopping cart, and check out just like any other e-commerce website.

Also, most of the time you can get the domain for cheaper than through a third party provider. Resellers often sell domain registrations anywhere between $15 to $100. If you go directly through an ICANN-accredited registrar like Dynadot, you end up paying only $7.99 for .com and most other domains, and sometimes even less than that.

So, simply follow our Help Q&A and utilize our fine customer support staff, and you'll be up and running in no time. But, if you do decide to recruit the assistance of a third party, take heart, and protect yourself from the pitfalls of custodial registrations.

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