Who owns your domain names?

by Thompson Coburn LLP

Who owns your domain names

Asking who owns your domain name is not as silly a question as you might think. And it is one that needs more attention from many businesses. Many small businesses, in particular, treat ownership of their Internet domain names with far less care than they give to less valuable personal property.

Domain names are, of course, the primary identifiers and addresses of business (and personal) websites. Most business websites are known by a simple domain name, often [Company Name].com, or [Trademark].com. These textual domain names, which correspond to numeric Internet Protocol addresses within the worldwide domain name system, act like Internet street addresses, and as front doors for visitors to your website.

They are important items of property — but unusual ones. You don’t physically possess a domain name, as you possess tangible personal property, like artworks and collectibles. You don’t get a government title, as with a vehicle, or record your rights in a government office, as with real estate. There are no fancy certificates for your safe deposit box, as there are (or at least used to be) with traditional intangible personal property like stocks and bonds.

You “own” a domain name by having purchased (“registered”) it from a domain name registrar — a company like Network Solutions, Go Daddy, or Register.com. No certificate or title comes with it; registration is more like the book entry system in which your stock ownership is recorded on your broker’s books. The ownership registry for domain names is known as the WHOIS database, and is maintained in a database shared among all of the many domain name registrars. So far, so good — domains are an unusual kind of property, but there is a system for recording ownership.

The problem, however, is that many businesses fail to ensure that their ownership is properly recorded in their names. In many cases, companies ask their IT consultants to register their domains and manage their websites — and those consultants often register the domains in their own name, for ease of operations. Or a small business may allow one of its tech-savvy young employees to take care of its domain name registrations, and he, too, may do so using his own name and personal account. 

Problems can — and do — develop when the company and its IT consultant, or its employee, come to disagreements or part company. We’ve seen situations where consultants, or former employees, use their personal control of a company’s domain names as leverage in their disputes with the company — financial or otherwise. In these situations, the company has various remedies, such as claims under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, or under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure to which all domain name contracts are subject. But these disputes, and the costs and uncertainties they entail, can be avoided in the first place by following prudent business practices.

Ideally, companies should own domain names in their own name, not through intermediaries. Even if a consultant registers the names as part of a website construction project, that name should be promptly transferred to the company. The company should centralize control of domain names under a responsible officer, such as the CIO or CFO. A knowledgeable employee should actively maintain the company’s domain names, and be responsible for attending to renewals and new registrations.

Alternatively, if a business really prefers to have an outside consultant handle its domains, it should have a clear written contract with that consultant, acknowledging that the domains belong to the company, not the consultant, and that they must be returned to the company’s explicit ownership on demand. Such a contract should contain a provision explicitly authorizing domain name registrars to follow the company’s directions with respect to its domains in the case of a conflict with the consultant.

Careful steps like these should be basic operating procedure for any business with a website. After all, ownership of important property like domain names shouldn’t carry a question mark.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thompson Coburn LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Thompson Coburn LLP

Thompson Coburn LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.