by Richard Keyt, Domain Name Law attorney

If you do a Whois search and find out that you are not the owner (registrant) of the domain name for your web site or if your company is not listed as the owner (registrant) of the domain name for its web site, you should immediately take steps to cause the registrar of the domain name to change its Whois database record to correct the mistake.  See How to Determine Who Owns Your Domain Name.  As far as the domain name registrar is concerned the owner of a domain name is the person or entity shown in its Whois database as the registrant.

The most common reason a domain name is not owned by the correct party is because the person or company who should be the owner of the domain name relied on a web site designer, internet service provider or employee to apply for and register the domain name.  This person applied for the domain name and indicated that he or she or his or her company was the registrant.  Usually it is simply a mistake and can be corrected by contacting the person or entity incorrectly named as the owner/registrant of the domain name and asking the person or entity to contact the domain name registrar and arrange to correct the mistake.

Transferring the domain name to the correct owner is merely a formality as long as the listed domain name owner cooperates.  Be sure to follow up with your registrar at least once a week after filing the domain name registrant transfer documents with the registrar until you confirm in a Whois search that the domain ownership has been transferred to the correct party.  The registrars can be very slow to make changes in domain name ownership.  Also, be sure to make copies of all documents given to your registrar because they frequently get lost.

If, however, the improper holder of a domain name is not willing to cooperate (which happens when the named owner is a former disgruntled employee or an unhappy or unpaid web site designer), you may be forced to file a lawsuit to obtain a court order that the domain name be transferred.  If the true owner of a domain name hired the record owner of the domain name to design a web site and obtain the domain name or if the record owner is a disgruntled employee, the court will most likely order that the domain name be transferred to its rightful owner.

Before going to court, read your web site development agreement or internet service provider agreement and make sure that the agreement does not contain any language that says that the web site designer or ISP owns the domain name.