Who really owns a domain?
March 21, 2008 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Who really owns a domain? If a company registers a domain under the name of an individual, who really owns the domain and what are their rights?

If a hosting company registers a domain on behalf of an individual, who owns it, the individual or the company? Specifically, if the whois record lists the individual's name as the registrant can the hosting company hold the domain to ransom? If the individual wants to change hosting suppliers but keep the same domain what are their rights if the hosting company refuses? Do they have any?
posted by missmagenta to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had the same thing happen to me. Basically I just talked to the company the registered the domain for me and then initiated a transfer to my own registrar. This is exactly why I keep my hosting and domain registrations separate now.
posted by DJWeezy at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2008

Who "owns" the domain would depend entirely on the agreement you entered into when you instructed them to register the domain name for you. (Actually, I'd doubt that anyone but ICANN is ever allowed to actually own the domain -- but that's not responsive to your actual question, I'd guess)

That said, if they're actually holding it for "ransom" (demanding exorbitant payment to transfer it to you) as opposed to just refusing outright to give it to you, you may be able to get it back under ICANN's UDRP. That could get costly, though, so it really depends on how much it's worth to you.
posted by toomuchpete at 3:32 PM on March 21, 2008

As TMP says, ICANN is always and forever the only "owner". Everyone else is renting its use, down a chain of sub-sub-renters.

In most cases, a hosting company has no title to a domain name, ever, unless it's their name in the Registrant part of the record. Even then, if it was "on behalf of", they don't have legal footing.

You may owe them money, but that's not necessarily ransom or related. If the 'ransom' is the fees for registering or renewing the domain, the hosting company has some rights, sure, but if that's been paid for, there's nothing left for them.

You can move your domain and they're obliged to help (or at least not hinder) you. If they don't, you can appeal up the chain to their provider/supplier, whether that's ICANN (sometimes) or an intermediary (often), any of whom can amend the record, which is all you need done. Each will have its own process you'll need to go through to "prove" your title to the domain (passwords, maybe, or faxed documentation like a driver's license), but it needn't cost you anything other than some time.
posted by rokusan at 4:13 PM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

A. Most, though not all, hosting companies are domain name resellers and not regsitrars. They have to abide by the rules of their registrar partner.

B. If your name and email address are listed as the admin contact and the name is unlocked you can transfer it at any time.

C. A registrar/hosting company is not permitted to charge you to unlock a domain name.

D. ICANN does NOT own domain names. They are the government oversight body. Domain names are "owned" by the registries that distribute them.

E. Reporting individual abuses to ICANN is about as effective as the hope & pray method of birth control.

If you are having problems with your hosting company with regard to your domain name insist on speaking to someone in management. Keep insisting until you get to the product manager. If you still have no luck (and the hosting company is a reseller), find out who their registrar is. Go to them and insist that you have been seeking the help of the hoster, but they have not been helping.

If you owe them money for renewal, redemption, etc. you will have to pay them. Please contact me if you need more information.

Oh, and if you want to get really twisted there's the whole notion on whether anyone can "own" a name versus simply leasing it. Some foreign registrars claim you do own it. US registrars say it's a lease.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:49 PM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

FlamingBore is right on his (D) above. I was sloppy, there. Individual registry makes more sense.
posted by rokusan at 6:26 PM on March 21, 2008

Another angle on the issue. Whoever can receive email sent to the admin contact pwns the domain.
posted by Area Control at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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