by Richard Keyt, Domain Name Law attorney
Do you control your domain name? Do you know who controls your domain name? If you do not, you should check immediately. You may be surprised to learn that the people or companies that have legal control of your web site’s domain name are not associated with your company or perhaps they may be employed by your company, but are not the right people.
Many people and companies operating web sites do not control their domain names and are unaware of that fact. The parties that control internet domain names are the “Registrant,” and, to a lesser extent, three types of agents/contacts called the “administrative contact,” the “technical contact” and the “billing contact.” The term “Registrant” means the person or entity that owns the domain name according to the records of the Registrar. The term “Registrar” means the entity that is authorized by ICANN to issue domain names.
The initial Registrant and the administrative, technical and billing contacts are the people or entities listed on the original Domain Name Registration Agreement filed with the Registrar of the domain name to obtain the domain name. Typically the internet service provider or web site developer applies for and obtains a domain name and designates the Registrant and the administrative, technical and billing contacts. It is common for a party submitting a domain name registration to name the party or some person not affiliated with the company operating the web site as the Registrant or one of the key contacts. Incorrectly designating the Registrant and the administrative, technical and billing contacts could be a very costly mistake.
The administrative, technical and billing contacts are individuals or groups who represent the Registrant on matters related to the Registrant’s domain name. These contacts should be individuals or companies who the domain name owner trusts to handle issues involving the domain name record on file with the Registrar. In many cases, the technical contact is a representative of the internet service provider and the administrative contact is a representative of the domain name Registrant. This is the model Network Solutions recommends.
The entity or person listed as the administrative, technical, or billing contact should be the person or entity best able to answer questions about that particular aspect of the domain name’s registration, and should be authorized to represent the domain name Registrant. An administrative, technical, or billing contact may be a person, a group or an entity.
The administrative contact is an individual or “role contact” authorized to interact with the Registrar on behalf of the domain name Registrant. The administrative contact should be able to answer non-technical questions about the domain name’s registration and the domain name Registrant. The administrative contact for a domain name should be the Registrant or a trusted person in the Registrant’s organization.
A “role contact” is a group name under which more than one individual may perform a specific function. For example, “Hostmaster” is the role under which several people at Network Solutions handle incoming email related to domain registrations. Role contacts are typically used to prevent a critical function from being tied to a particular individual. Network Solutions recommends that at least one of the contacts be a role contact. Network Solutions’ domain has a role contact (Network Solutions, Inc.) as the administrative and technical contacts.
The billing contact is the person or role contact designated to receive the invoice for domain name registration and renewal fees. The billing contact should be in a position to ensure prompt payment of domain name renewal fees. If the billing contact fails to pay the original invoice or a renewal invoice for a domain name, the Registrar will cancel the domain name, which will terminate the web site and possibly cause the loss of the domain name if it is reissued to somebody else.
To determine the administrative, billing and technical contacts for a domain name, you must perform a Whois search with the Registrar of the domain name.
The Registrant has certain powers to alter the domain name record filed with the Registrar. For example, the person or entity named as the Registrant of a domain name may complete and submit a Registrant Name Change Agreement to Network Solutions to take one or more of the following actions:
- Correct a typographical error in the Registrant’s name (e.g., misspellings or transpositions);
- Correct an organizational identifier (e.g., Inc., Co., Corp., L.L.C., L.L.P., SA, AG);
- Change the Registrant’s legal name; and
- Transfer the domain to another Registrant.
Either the current administrative contact or the current technical contact may submit domain modifications (other than modifications required to be made in a Name Change Agreement) from the e-mail address shown in the Registrar’s’ WHOIS database. On receiving an email message from either the administrative or the technical contact of a domain name that originates from the proper email address, the Registrar will modify its database records for the domain name according to the instructions in the email message . Modifications submitted by someone who is not the administrative or technical contact (or who cannot be verified as a contact) may be delayed until a listed point of contact can acknowledge that the changes are from an authorized source.
If you determine that your company is not the Registrant of its domain name(s) or if the proper people or entities are not the administrative, technical or billing contacts, you should take action to change the Registrar’s records to reflect the proper parties. If the Registrant is not correct, you must convince the named Registrant to complete, sign and deliver to the Registrar a Registrant Name Change Agreement naming the proper person or entity as the new Registrant.
Whenever a person or entity other than the party that is the actual owner of a domain name is named as the Registrant of the domain name, the domain name owner should consider getting a written agreement with the person or entity that contains the following terms (in addition to standard contract provisions):
The Registrant acknowledges that the Registrant is acting as the agent of and on behalf of the domain name owner with respect to all matters affecting the domain name.
- The Registrant acknowledges that the domain name owner is the holder of all rights to the domain name and that the Registrant does not have any rights to the domain name.
- The domain name owner may terminate the Registrant’s position as Registrant with respect to the domain name at any time without notice.
- The Registrant will cooperate with the domain name owner and sign any documents reasonably requested by the domain name owner to carry out any changes resulting from the termination of the Registrant.
- The Registrant grants to the domain name owner a special power of attorney coupled with an interest naming the domain name owner as the Registrant’s attorney-in-fact to take any and all actions and to sign any and all documents relating to the domain name on behalf of the Registrant.
- The Registrant will not modify the domain name record on file with the Registrar without the prior written consent of the domain name owner.
- The domain name owner pays consideration for the agreement with the Registrant.
A contract with these provisions will allow the domain name owner to protect its domain name if a person or entity named as a Registrant becomes involved in a dispute with the domain name owner, dies, has creditor problems, files for bankruptcy, or improperly alters or transfers the domain name.
If you do not know who controls your domain name, do a WHOIS search immediately and take appropriate action now if necessary to prevent the loss of a valuable asset and other problems that may arise from the wrong people or entities having control over your domain name. It is an ounce of prevention that may save you a lot of headaches in the future.