Dear Kelly: do you own your domain name?

Have you ever heard that things come in three's? This week three different times I found myself discussing the ins and outs of domain name ownership. Domain names are tricky little buggers and the process can get confusing. To help clear up some questions here are some things you need to know.

First you must determine if you own your domain name. Just because a domain name has been used on your website does not mean you own it. You only own your domain name if the registrant is listed under your name. Just this week a person I was speaking too was upset (and rightly so) because he found out his previous website vendor had registered his domain name in the name of the website company. The vendor was holding his domain name hostage and did not want to turn it over to the owner of the business. The business owner was flabbergasted. He said, "I have started this company, I own the company that name should be MINE." Yes, however, in the eyes of the register companies the person whose name is listed as the owner is the legal owner. Period. The only way around this issue is if your business name is trademarked. Then the person who holds your domain name has to sell it back to you at cost.

To explain this let's say you gave a friend 10,000 dollars to go buy a car. Said friend puts the title of the car in his/her name. That car is now their property, EVEN THOUGH you paid for it. This is the same for your domain name.

How do you find out if you own your domain name? Go to or and scroll down to the bottom and click on WhoIS. It will tell you who the owner of the domain name is. If your domain name is registered to you then you have no problems. Whew. If the domain name is in another person's name, like your current website vendor, ask them to change it into your name IMMEDIATELY. A domain name is the asset of your company. It should be in your name. Beware, I repeat, only the company whose name is on the registration has control over that domain name.

A second problem that occurs with domain names is when you want to transfer from one website company to another. Many website vendors use a bulk domain name service--generally because they are cheaper. The problem is, EVEN IF the domain name is in your name you cannot access it because you do not have the username and password to the bulk account. Only the website vendor has access to the name. If you want to have your website live somewhere else besides with your previous vendor that holds the domain name, that previous vendor has to make the switch to your name and site of your choice. Sometimes they will make the switch and sometimes they won't. Sometimes the vendor you are leaving will take down your current website since you are no longer using their services. This might be before you are ready for your website to down.

To keep your domain name in your control the best policy is to have your domain name under your name, in your own account with a separate registration from your website vendor. The most popular three registers for domain names are:,, and

How do you get your name back if the person/company who is holding it is not cooperative or will not change the ownership or access to you? Here are a few choices.

  1. Resort to legal action where you can prove it is your business and that you have paid the website vendor to maintain your domain name for you. The legal process could go through
  2. Look up when your domain name is expiring. Put in a backorder to buy the domain when it becomes "free" again.
  3. Use a different domain name for your business and this time make sure you are the owner of the name.

Once you have control and ownership of your domain name, then you have the freedom to use the website vendor that you want when you want. Good luck and don't give up control of your name -- ever!

Ms. Baltzell is dedicated using technology to build support and community. This dedication has brought Ms. Baltzell to a variety of companies and led her to develop expertise in the development of Internet support. She is an accomplished professional with a proven record of performance and leadership in both the Internet industry as well as the mental health field.