I am not trying to be alarmist here, be assured that despite reading this below; if I set up your domain name for your organisation then you own it. However problems can occur, so I have several examples I have given below to illustrate them, and what happened as a result.
The following article largely applies to .co.uk and .org.uk domain names. I have had direct experience in these cases, ICANN controls other domain names like .com. They will have similar processes in place.
It is possible to look up your domain name using a “whois” service. For .org.uk and .co.uk, these are managed by Nominet. You can go to this page, enter your domain name and see what is recorded about it.
I generally take out domain names for new clients using one of two accounts. The majority are held with my registrar uk2.net, and I am the registrant. Because I have an account with uk2.net my details are automatically entered against the domain names. However I can edit some of the fields on request.
Why is this important?
The person that holds your domain name, also controls where DNS is located, this is the service that connects a user looking for www.mysite.co.uk to the right web server. It also affects mail as well. So in the wrong hands, you can end up in trouble if you are not careful. Your mail could suddenly turn off along with your website.
Case 1: The registrant passes away
While replacing and moving an existing site I needed access to the domain name. In this case the registrant (the person who registered the domain name) passed away during the project. Nobody knew the password or username to access the registrar information in order to transfer the domain name and gain control of it, enabling me to set up the new website.
Under such circumstances you cannot access the account, or even apply to the registrar without permission being granted from the executors. Executors also need probate to be granted so they can act on behalf of the deceased estate. So you can imagine how difficult this can be for the family of the deceased dealing with the death of a family member, while you are trying to gain access to a trivial domain name.
Because a domain name is an asset, it may contain some value, for most of us the value is small, but if it was say BT.COM then it is worth a lot of money (To BT in this case) so people tend to be very cautious in making changes in this area.
Nominet hold the register for domain names ending in .org.uk and .co.uk. They have Registrars acting on their behalf which is who you and I might deal with. We would not go direct to Nominet. However under such circumstances you can go to them if you are in conflict with your registrar (we were in this case because they understandably could not give access to the account).
Nominet will allow you to make changes to your entry with them for £10+vat. In this case we had to provide a letter from the Executors of the deceased estate to Nominet and pay a charge to re-register the name and email address associated with the domain name.
Case #2: Unscrupulous Indian Web Developers
I was called a couple of months ago by a Radio Station asking if I could help them with their website. In this case the UK based radio station was working with some offshore developers based in India. It turned out that over £1500 had been paid over to the Indian team with little to show for it in terms of a website. A structure was there, but little else in terms of content. The UK radio station wanted to withdraw from the arrangement and work with a developer that was based in the UK.
I asked about the domain name. In this case it had either been passed to the Indian Developers or they had taken it out on behalf of the clients. Either way the developers had control of it. They were unwilling to release the domain name to the client unless £400 cash was handed over in India.
In this case there was an assumption on behalf of the developers that the domain name carried value, and without it the radio station would be stuck. I asked for Google Analytics evidence to demonstrate that the site was actually receiving 10,000 hits per month (or even 1000). If the site was truly popular then this would be very easy to demonstrate. The developers had placed a counter on the site which said 46,000. However there was no way of telling whether that was a legitimate visitor count.
The Google Analytics data never appeared, so the value was never validated. In this case I took out another domain name ending in .co.uk vs .com. The site while new, is rapidly establishing itself in the community of interest. The only downside to this story is that printed marketing collateral now needs to change to show the new domain name. But the good news was the domain name cost £10 for 2yrs vs £400.
Case #3: I don’t know
I come across this quite frequently. An organisation has an old website, maybe 4 years old, the person that developed it was a friend of a friend and has moved on, nobody can contact them.
In one case, one of the earliest sites I built, I tracked the person down in Kenya via Facebook. He was working in Kenya, but had originally worked in the UK.
In many cases the organisations I work with; if a domain name exists, they frequently do not know how to access it, or where it is located.
It is possible to use sites like http://www.mxtoolbox.com to establish ownership of a domain name, and to search for the owner of an IP address to establish where the site is hosted. This is how I track them down.
What you need to do
In a recent conversation with a Home-Start satellite office I was told that an audit from Home-Start UK now includes a question about the ownership of the domain name. This is a very important safeguard against abuse/ misuse / loss of control.
There are several pieces of information in the registration form. It contains a name, contact number, email address and street address for an entity. It also allows you to register as an individual or a company/ charity.
It is important that the address on record is the registered address of your entity. By default my details go into these forms. The (street) address should be the address on the website.
Optionally you can have an email address in there other than mine, however what is placed in there, needs to be kept current, it also should not be an address under your domain name (just in case it expires, then you would not be able to pick up mail, so you would have a catch 22 situation).
If you check your details and want them changed please contact me and I will get them changed. In principle this is not a change of ownership, so the changes should be at zero cost and I should be able to do this through my registrar on your behalf.
Why are they at my registrar?
Largely because I have registered them for you, they also automatically get renewed, and I bill them to you when they get updated. It means you do not need to worry about them.
If you want them transferred to a registrar where you have an account I will be happy to do that if you have any concerns about this area of control.