Whilst domain names are important in a technical sense in that
they serve as a link to websites, their real value –
particularly in a business context – is actually much
They serve a marketing purpose similar to trademarks, in that
they are often comprised of distinguishing words which reflect and
complement a brand. They are also commonly utilised for operations
and sales purposes, with email systems allowing communication
between employees and customers and, in some circumstances,
providing a direct link to online purchasing.
Given that domain names do serve such an important role, it only
makes sense that they receive the same attention as other business
What is the issue?
As with any other business asset, a primary concern should be
the protection of your ownership of the domain name. The issue that
arises, however, is that what you believe may be your business
domain may actually be owned by someone else.
It depends on a number of factors:
Who registered the domain name – an employee or
independent contractor; and
In whose name was the domain name registered – the
business or independent contractor?
When does this happen?
A recent example involved my client, an Australian company,
which had previously contracted with an independent IT specialist
to register a domain name and create the company website, and to
provide ongoing maintenance of the domain and site.
Unbeknownst to my client, the IT specialist had registered the
domain name in his own personal name. Also, without my client's
knowledge or consent he registered another domain name which also
included my client's name. Whilst the relationship between the
parties was on foot, the issue of ownership was not raised or
discussed. However, as soon as my client terminated the
relationship, the IT specialist tried to hold my client to
The IT specialist advised that he had registered the domain name
in his own name, and demanded that my client purchase the domain
name from him otherwise he would shut the domain name down and, in
effect, destroy my client's website and communication system
– one which was used by hundreds of its staff and customers
on daily basis and was vital for my client's business.
Fortunately, my client was strategic and responded accordingly
by engaging Coleman Greig immediately, and we were then able to
successfully negotiate the transfer of the domain name into the
name of my client at minimal cost.
To my client's credit they also had a back-up domain which
they could rely upon in the event that the IT specialist carried
out his threat – however, this was ultimately not needed.
What can you do?
Find out who really owns your domain name. If unsure, we can
If you don't actually own your domain name and it is instead
registered to the IT service provider, contact us immediately. It
is more cost effective to correct any error in registration now
rather than when it becomes contested.
Ensure that you have a back-up domain name which can be engaged
as a last resort in order to minimise any loss occasioned by any
adverse action taken against your domain name.
In future, when you contract with the independent IT service
provider, ensure that the domain name will be registered in the
name of your business. It's best to put this contract in
writing and to ask for a copy of the registration details to ensure
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Differences in the expectations of suppliers and customers regarding the development of bespoke software, frequently lead to disputes regarding development timeframes, scope, cost, and intellectual property ownership.
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