Is your domain name really yours?
Unfortunately, no, not on many levels.
Firstly, you don’t own a domain name when you pay for it. You pay for the registration of that domain name for a fixed period. It can easily become “someone else’s” if you fail to renew the domain (pending certain waiting periods).
Secondly, the most important party in terms of domain name registration, is the ‘registrant’. This is the person to whom the domain name is registered. It sounds obvious, but it may not be you. For example, www.bobswidgets.com may be the domain name of Bob’s website on which he’s been selling widgets for the last decade. But he may not actually be the registrant of the domain name. The business who developed Bob’s website may have offered to register the domain on Bob’s behalf, and in doing so, they may have listed their own business – rather than Bob’s – as the registrant.
This kind of arrangement works fine while things are fine – and indeed it’s probably less troublesome for Bob because he won’t receive the emails concerning the administrative matters associated with the domain name. But if things turn sour between Bob and his website provider, the website provider can potentially make Bob’s life rather difficult.
For example, if Bob decides that his website is getting a bit long in the tooth and wants to freshen it up, and his website provider isn’t interested in doing it, or if Bob wants to go with a different website provider for any reason at all, this could be difficult. In order for a new website to be linked to the domain name, the registrant (which isn’t Bob) would need to make that change. Bob might think that if the old business isn’t willing to make that change, he’ll just get the new business to do it. Unfortunately, the new business can’t – their hands are tied until the old business relinquishes control of the domain name and its configuration.
If Bob’s like most businesses, he’s probably linked emails to his domain name: you can reach Bob by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org This is another point of ‘sensitivity’ – the old business also controls how emails are routed via the domain name.
Now, if it came down to it, Bob could lodge a complaint with the registrar of the domain name, but it could be a fairly lengthy bunfight. I’ve never known it to come down to that. But I have seen delays of up to a month occur because of communication issues between different parties. While any reputable company is unlikely to want to earn a reputation as being obstructionist in such matters, the reality is that if you’re leaving that company to go to another one, you mightn’t be their highest priority.
This is why I always recommend that you take full ‘ownership’ of your domain name. If it’s being registered by someone else on your behalf, get it in writing that it will registered in YOUR name.
Want to know who is the registrant of your domain? For Australian (.au) domain names, you can look up the information here, while non-Australian domain names can be examined here.
On a related note, if you ever receive a renewal notice about your domain name, which is from a company you’ve never dealt with, it’s quite likely that they’re trying to set themselves up as ‘middle-man’ between you and the actual registrar responsible for your domain, with the intent of grossly overcharging you or, worse, just taking your money and running. The links above are useful in establishing whether such a company has any relationship to your domain name (but keep in mind that even a legitimate ‘reseller’ who has registered a domain name for you, may also be a ‘middle-man’ who will not appear as the registrar in a who-is lookup).
If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details of the rules and regulations around domain names, you can check out the auDA website for Australia-specific policies, and the overarching policies are available on the ICANN website.