Can I sell my company's unused domain name for personal profit?
February 2, 2005 3:10 PM   Subscribe

My company has been offered a large sum of money for a domain name we own (but don't use). As the sole contact listed in the WHOIS, the offer was sent directly to my email address, so I'm the only person here who is aware of this offer. My company is notoriously unscrupulous, so I have no ethical hangups about just taking the money for myself. But, naturally, I don't want to break the law. Are you aware of any loopholes that might work to my advantage?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (52 answers total)
Without factoring in the moral aspects, what will your excuse be for the domain no longer being owned by your company?
posted by riffola at 3:18 PM on February 2, 2005

When the company does an audit, you're going to be screwed. And it will be very easy to trace the money back to you. It's not like you're taking an unused computer from the storage area in the basement, the company knows where the product went and can find out how they got it. If the sum of money is large enough, it can be considered grand theft and you'll get jail time in addition to paying the money back. It's not worth it at all.
posted by Arch Stanton at 3:21 PM on February 2, 2005

Only legal if you personally paid for the domain registration.

If they really aren't paying attention, you could take ownership when it expires, and then sell it.
posted by smackfu at 3:25 PM on February 2, 2005

If you bought it with your own money, and were not reimbursed for it, that might be a loophole.

My company is notoriously unscrupulous, so I have no ethical hangups about just taking the money for myself.

But you're still going to hell.

On preview: what smackfu said.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:26 PM on February 2, 2005

Leaving aside the (negative) consequences to you criminally, and the problems you'd get from your (to-be-former) employer, the purchaser would probably go after you as well, especially if it turns out that the sale was not valid since you weren't the owner. Besides, if the buyer is at all savvy, they'll undoubtedly find out before the purchase is consummated that you aren't authorized to sell, if only because it'll seem suspicious that you want the money paid to you instead of the company. This doesn't answer your question, but it does point out that you'd need a lot of loopholes to pull it off legally.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2005

One more thing. Even if you could legally sell the domain and pocket the money, your company would still probably fire you and badmouth you to any future employer, so the amount you receive had better set you up for life.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 3:32 PM on February 2, 2005

But, naturally, I don't want to break the law.

This says to me that you do know then that any so-called loophole would just be "skirting" the law -- i.e. breaking it.

Why not just take your office computer home as well. Maybe no one will notice and you can just blame it on the cleaning staff.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:41 PM on February 2, 2005

"My company is notoriously unscrupulous..."

So, you figure this entitles you to sell their property?

I'm thinking that you and your employer make a fine match and predict your fast rise to the executive suite. Don't mess up your chances at a long career defrauding the public and your stockholders in exchange for a quick score.
posted by cedar at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2005

for crying out loud - even if posted in jest, I mean it. You could have criminal and civil judgements against you on top of losing your job.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:00 PM on February 2, 2005

I'd be after you, if I was unscrupulous, and I paid your salary. Equates to, don't do it. Honestly, don't do it.
posted by sled at 4:22 PM on February 2, 2005

My god, sometimes I feel like honest people are a besieged minority. I'm appalled by the original question, and I hope the submitter gets fired one of these days.
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on February 2, 2005

My company has been offered a large sum of money

Large enough for you to live on for the rest of your life?

Also, to whom do you propose the buyer make the check payable - "bearer"?

Finally, have you considered looking for a job with a company that you would not want to rip off? [And if your standard of what's right and wrong has to do with finding loopholes, do you think such a company would hire you?]
posted by WestCoaster at 4:36 PM on February 2, 2005

This is a bad idea but the bigger question is what are you doing working in an ethical vaccuum?
posted by fenriq at 5:13 PM on February 2, 2005

Matt, why did you delete my comment? Anon's contemplated behavior is beyond unscrupulous. Shame on you for even allowing this post as anonymous. Double shame on you for deleting criticism of illegal and immoral behavior. If anon commits this fraud I hope he or she enjoys prison.
posted by caddis at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2005

See, this is the kind of behavior that makes Metafilter fucking unpleasant. Why can't you just advise the poster without beating them into ground and acting if that person were the scum of the earth?

It's a bloody question about actions that might be questionnable. Anon is looking for advice not condemnation. How do you ever learn if you can't ask questions. What is with you people? I'd like to applaude Arch Stanton, smackfu, and EatenByAGrue for helpful responses.
posted by Jim Jones at 5:37 PM on February 2, 2005

> What you ought to do is work with the buyer
> to make it look like you proactively sold the
> domain, and try to get yourself a finder's fee.

Or flip the equation around. Tell the CFO "I have a buyer interested in purchasing - the company would get $5000", get independent contracts with your company and the buyer, and pocket the difference legally and ethically. If you're willing to give up another half hour sleep that night, leave out the buyer part and offer to purchase the domain yourself for reasons unspecified (or fabricated). Be sure your schedule and terms are set up so you can back out if your buyer falls through.

You aren't bound by any law to inform your employer about potential business, but it's considered good form. If your company doesn't warrant that respect, then by all means get what you can from this situation - everybody wins.
posted by jayCampbell at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2005

Why can't you just advise the poster without beating them into ground and acting if that person were the scum of the earth?
Yes, why can't we just tell the poster how to scam his employer, commit fraud and generally be a bad person?
posted by caddis at 5:44 PM on February 2, 2005

No, I said give him advice. As in "no, that's a bad idea because you're going to get caught." I did not say condone his actions.
posted by Jim Jones at 5:51 PM on February 2, 2005

> Yes, why can't we just tell the poster how to scam
> his employer, commit fraud and generally be a bad person?

This deal would be less shady than some of the company's other business practices, from the sound of it. Why does everyone assume Anonymous squeezing a buck or three from this opportunity has to involve illegal and/or immoral acts?

The Man doesn't keep you down. He just has no motivation to help.
posted by jayCampbell at 5:57 PM on February 2, 2005

Yes, why can't we just tell the poster how to scam his employer, commit fraud and generally be a bad person?

You could, but then you could also just as simply reserve opinion and expertise for other, more appropriate questions you would feel comfortable in assisting with.
posted by Thoth at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2005

jayCampbell: You aren't bound by any law to inform your employer about potential business, but it's considered good form.

This is wrong. In certain instances, which are not that rare, you can be liable for failing to inform your employer about potential business. In addition, there may be contractual obligations that exist between the poster and his/her employee.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2005

> In certain instances, which are not that rare,
> you can be liable for failing to inform your employer
> about potential business.

Agreed. I was overgeneralizing. Depending on Anon's employment contract (or line of work, as you hint at), anything short of full and immediate disclosure is breach of contract, with ensuing penalties.

I suppose my advice would then be to take Anon's contract and related materials to a contract lawyer and see if the potential arrangements are interesting enough for the attorney waive payment until the deal finalized.
posted by jayCampbell at 6:08 PM on February 2, 2005

Whether anon tells his employer or not is probably not a legal issue unless he is in a position of having a fiduciary duty to his employer. Most employees do not and so a failure to inform is just doing a poor job. If however this failure to inform is then used to make a personal gain it is fraud, a crime. Asking for a finder's fee to reveal this info is probably also a crime and at minimum a firing offense. Anon is on morally tenuous ground here (and that is so overgenerous a description). Anon - DO NOT DO THIS, IT IS WRONG! Can I be any more clear? No loophole is enough. Anon does not own this registration. Any purported sale would be illegal, null and void with actions probable against anon from both the buyer and his/her ex-employer, if not from the local prosecutor. This is wrong on so many levels.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on February 2, 2005

Actually, line of work is not what I'm hinting at. I don't want to misstate the law, however, so suffice it to say that I agree with you, jayCampbell, that an (employment) attorney would need to be consulted if the poster wishes to keep the offer of purchase a secret.

On preview: caddis, I think the fact that the poster is the sole contact for the domain name suggests that a duty of some sort may exist, at least when it comes to the domain name.

Regardless, there are plenty of legal issues to be navigated here, which strongly suggests against the poster attempting to try.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 6:36 PM on February 2, 2005

It is true that the person asking the question is very likely to get caught, and thus it would be rather foolish to try such a thing. However, the reason to not make the attempt is not to avoid ramifications, rather it is because such action is morally wrong. Whatever happened to being a good person?
posted by Justinian at 6:45 PM on February 2, 2005

EatenByGrue - I think you are right about the duty given the fact that anon is the sole contact. This only makes anon's conduct more unbecoming.

Anon - give up this kooky idea and if you really think your employer is so dishonorable then give up your employer as well. Keep your honor, it will serve you better than any dollar.
posted by caddis at 6:45 PM on February 2, 2005

All you have to do is find a third party to act as a market boundary. Then you, acting as an agent of your company, sell the domain to your friend and then both of you turn around and sell it to the original buyer. If the original bid is big enough you can net yourself a tidy sum. And if it's one of those domains your company doesn't even use then it should be a cinch.

And there is no crime here. Banks do this literally millions of times a day. It's called "taking the spread." You are aware of market information, in this case a bid price, that others aren't aware of and it's quite reasonable of you to act on this information for your own profit.
posted by nixerman at 6:57 PM on February 2, 2005

caddis, I think you need to take a step back. This is about (at most) making a profit on the sale of a domain name. It is not about whether or not Anon should go out rape and pillage his (or her) local suburb.

IMHO, you are morally fine if you can buy the domain from your employer and then re-sell to the buyer. What jayCampbell said. Or, on preview, what nixerman said.
posted by Jim Jones at 7:02 PM on February 2, 2005

Wait a second, that's completely untrue. He's only morally fine if someone at the company in a position of authority is aware of and approves of his sale to a third party!

If I work a Best Buy, I can't sell a plasma TV to my buddy for $10 and then sell it on Ebay for $1000. This is the same thing.
posted by Justinian at 7:07 PM on February 2, 2005

This is not morally fine mr. Jim Jones. This is not quite as bad as the Kool-Aid incident, but this is stealing. If that is morally fine in your book than too bad for you.
posted by caddis at 7:12 PM on February 2, 2005

"then" too bad for you.

posted by caddis at 7:13 PM on February 2, 2005

nixerman, the crucial distinction for the poster is that the reason he acquired the information is because of his position within the company. That is likely to create an obligation to give the company the benefit of the information. Like I said before, consult a lawyer if you (referring to the poster) wish to pursue this further. But I'm almost 100% sure that the lawyer will strongly advise the poster against this action.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 7:14 PM on February 2, 2005

EatenByAGrue, perhaps, but I don't think that really matters in this case. There are all sorts of ways one could intepret this chain of events. One day he got a bid from some nutjob out of the blue over email. The next day he got a bid from a respectable local entrepeneur who wished to purchase the domain immediately. He made the logical choice: the entrepeneur. The final payoff doesn't have to come right away and it can be hidden in some other transaction for services not-really-rendered. This happens all the time and I'd think he has a good chance of getting away with it, the law be damned.
posted by nixerman at 7:22 PM on February 2, 2005

caddis, your definition of immorality is your business (and shouldn't be pushed down someone else's throat). I still think your comments to Anon were out of line.

If this is such a problem for you, maybe you should take it to meta. Furthermore, why not report this website to the authorities? This may (eventually) force Matt to reveal the poster's identity and then you can have this person jailed for seeking advice on a possible action.
posted by Jim Jones at 7:30 PM on February 2, 2005

I have to say I am quite dismayed by the posters who seem to if not condone at least empower anon's behavior. I have a friend who works for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. Now, I think of insurance companies as being somewhere below scum. They make Microsoft look like Mother Theresa. Nevertheless, is it right to scam them? My friend's comment is, why is it that whenever a car is stolen it seems to have a bag of Ping golf clubs in the trunk? Scamming a company just because you disagree with their business practices is wrong. Scamming a company, a person, a people (GW are you listening?) or anyone is just wrong. If someone has directly scammed you and you are taking relief I might have a different opinion. However, what anon is contemplating here is wrong, both morally and legally. Any advice to further this fraud is equally wrong on a moral basis. Mob lawyers rot in hell. When someone asks about committing evil don't sit back and enable them. Call them on it. Even if anon were to get away with this crime, how would anon explain this to his kids, to his parents, to his god? "You see son, crime is fine if it makes you feel good or if you commit crime against people you don't like."
posted by caddis at 7:31 PM on February 2, 2005

Jesus, a lot of support for the man around here. Any more cow-towing and out lot's gonna be full of manure!

I was in a situation very similar to this, and all I can say is, it's going to be very difficult to get the domain from the owner illegally without getting caught. Your best bet is to register it if/when it expires (and maybe toss a few bucks to their system admin. who would be in charge of re-registering domains and potentially taking the heat for failing to do so). Your next option would be to try and make friends with someone In Charge and express a personal interest in the domain name, "seeing as how nobody's using it..." This could just as easily backfire, however.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:37 PM on February 2, 2005

nixerman, that may be a way the poster can get away with selling the domain and pocketing the proceeds, but that's not what the poster asked. The poster wants to find a way to legally engage in the activity, at least in a technical sense. He wants to ensure the form is legal, even if the substance is not. I'm not convinced your suggestion allows for that, although of course, the poster may be content with an act that might incur civil liability, even if it doesn't break the law.

This would be a good problem on a law school exam: spot all the different ways in which you can get into trouble, civilly or criminally.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 7:42 PM on February 2, 2005

caddis, I like the fact that you're so quick to condemn Anon--condemning others is good for one's own soul--but, nobody gives a shit what you think. Don't post to this thread again unless you have concrete advice to help Anon scam his corporate whoremaster out of a few thousand dollars.
posted by nixerman at 7:42 PM on February 2, 2005

What would Jesus do?
posted by caddis at 7:43 PM on February 2, 2005

Personally, I don't care what Jesus would do. I do care what a decent human being would do. A decent human being doesn't wiggle around trying to scam people out of money. Period.

Does the original poster want to be a decent human being or a bottom-feeder who gets his whenever and however he can?
posted by Justinian at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2005

caddis, I agree with your sentiments, but, unfortunately in this case, AskMe is not a place for judgment unless judgment is asked for. I believe it is more fruitful to answer the question by pointing out all the problems with the action the poster is interested in and to leave it to the poster to make the (morally, legally, and economically) right decision to refrain.

And I say economically, because I believe it quite likely that the employer will find out sooner or later, with potentially severe consequences to the poster's economic earning potential.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 7:53 PM on February 2, 2005

AskMe is not a place for judgment
Wrong. Judgment is part of answering the question. When someone asks to get help in doing evil in AskMe, do not sit back and enable their evil. You do anon a disservice when you avoid the moral problem and focus on the loop hole or whatever. Taking this act will possibly ruin anon's life (criminal record, jail, moral bankruptcy etc.). Ignoring this obvious fact because we are supposed to just answer the question is silly.
posted by caddis at 8:09 PM on February 2, 2005

If there's any sort of paper trail, you'll be fucked.
posted by trondant at 10:52 PM on February 2, 2005

I think what you have in mind is pretty bleak, really, but I'd imagine the loophole is that your company doesn't know the value of the domain. If you can convince someone with authority to sell it to you for a low, low price, you could possibly legally flip it to the buyer for a high, high price. I'd expect if they ever find out, your employer would fire you promptly, and might even sue you for damages, but it probably wouldn't get you arrested.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:38 AM on February 3, 2005

I'm afraid I know little about the legal side of this issue and what little I do know indicates that you're screwed. However, I think trharlan may be on to something. If you can set yourself up as the only person who can broker this lucrative deal for the company, you can milk it for something. If not a finder's fee, then surely a raise or stock options or something else of value.

The key, though, is to make sure that your overlord- er, employers believe that you have some special knowledge or skill set that will allow you to bring the deal off where all the other schmucks couldn't. The people who made the offer - they have competitors or peers, right? Can you contact such people and solicit more offers? Maybe even start a bidding war? If you're not cut out for this sort of thing, maybe there's someone in the company who is and you could work out a deal with that person; let him/her be the dealmaker and you pick up some sort of reward.
posted by Clay201 at 5:36 AM on February 3, 2005

Absolutely do not do this. It could subject you to civil and criminal liability. (Normally, we call selling off your employer's assets and pocketing the profit embezzlement.)
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:58 AM on February 3, 2005

Bad karma, dude.
posted by LouReedsSon at 7:32 AM on February 3, 2005

I've noticed the AskMe masses are quikcer to jump all over and condemn and generally yell at anonymous posters. Sorry you had to hear all these attacks, whomever you are.

That said, they have a point. You can't secretly sell one of your companies assests without getting into a world of trouble. It's only a matter of time before they find out and burn you for it. I think your best bet to profit from this - if there is any - I think Clay201 is on the right track.
posted by raedyn at 7:35 AM on February 3, 2005

I think that you could use one of the strategies that have been set forth above to sell the domain and pocket the cash. However, you will be committing fraud anyway you cut it. One of the elements of fraud is withholding information (remaining silent) of which another party would rely upon to make a decision. Perhaps you should ask yourself whether the amount of money that you would make from this transaction is worth the potential liability.

And what happens if you buy the domain from your employer, sell it to the buyer and your employer later learns what you did? Will they terminate you? This is not a moral incrimination of you, but I can't think of any employer that I know who would not at the very least terminate your employment.

Of course, there's always that karma stuff to watch out for as well.

I think that most of us would never do what Anon is contemplating whether it be for legal or moral reasons. But I also think that if we were confronted with the same opportunity we'd probably consider it even if only for a few minutes before reality set in.
posted by Juicylicious at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2005

I know, anonymous, you really like the thought of putting that big chunk of money in the bank. And I'm sure there are legal ways of doing it, albeit complicated ones. In the end, however, the legal hassles and the guilt will not be worth it, and spending the money will not be enjoyable.

When someone asks to get help in doing evil in AskMe, do not sit back and enable their evil.

That seems harsh, somewhat over-the-top and actually sounds kind of silly.
posted by boymilo at 9:34 AM on February 3, 2005

Well, I think selling it to a third party, then having that third party resell it would be the best way to do things. Just be sure to cover your tracks.

As to all these people who say it's "it's wrong" or "it's evil" I say: meh.
posted by delmoi at 7:54 PM on February 3, 2005

Sorry, all I can see when contemplating the third-party idea is:

Greetings! I am the son of the late BOO.COM famously dead these last few years and would like your assistance in transferring the COM domain name! Can you be our intermediary in returning this property to our family? If you would advance the sum of $5000 (five thousand dollars U,S,) we will ensure great reward for its return!

i.e. you don't know that the other transaction will indeed take place and can't guarantee it. Spending any reasonable amount of money (i.e. substantial enough to appeal) to chase chimerical money you don't have is foolish. Domain names are only worth what someone wants of them, and they're so plentiful that the want is infinitely flexible.

Find another way to steal from your employer; read more MetaFilter.
posted by dhartung at 11:50 PM on February 3, 2005

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