All too often, when individuals or businesses hire website developers, there is confusion over who “owns” the domain name. A domain name is the last two portions of a web address, for example “cantorfloman.com.”
Who “owns” a domain name?
Legally speaking, individuals and businesses cannot “own” a domain name. By way of example, when you purchase real property to build your new home, your ownership is evidenced by taking title to the property in the form of a legal deed. In contrast, when you purchase a domain name to build your new homepage, you do not take title to the domain name. Rather, you acquire the rights to use the domain name, very much like your right to use a phone number. The person who owns the rights to use the domain name is referred to as the “Registrar” of the domain name. Therefore, it is important to be clear as to WHOIS the Registrar of your domain name.
WHOIS the Registrar?
The Registrar is the person whose name and contact information is submitted to the WHOIS database upon registration for and purchase of the rights to use a domain name. The WHOIS directory is a directory maintained by domain registering agents such as NetworkSolutions and GoDaddy. The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires the Registrar to submit contact information to the WHOIS domain registering agent, including name, phone number, address, domain name, and email. This contact information will become public in the online WHOIS directory. It is possible to have the Registrar’s information kept private by paying a monthly fee to a third party to act as a proxy contact.
Another important position not to be overlooked is that of the Administrator. The Administrator, or Administrative Contact, is the person who has the legal right to approve any requested changes to the domain, including changing the Registrant. The Administrator also has access to usernames and passwords.
What to look for:
To perform a free WHOIS search to see if you are the Registrant and/or Administrator, you can check the WHOIS database of domain registration companies, such as www.NetworkSolutions.com and www.GoDaddy.com.
Website designers and developers and their clients should work together to ensure that the site design, development, and hosting contacts are clear about whether the client or the developer will be the Registrant and/or Administrator of the domain name. It is advisable that you retain an attorney with experience in drafting website design and development contracts to advise you in negotiating any terms and conditions of these contracts. We would be happy to draft or review a website design/development contract for you.