The short answer to this question should be a resounding yes.
The owner of an internet domain name should be you – the owner of the business or the sole trader – as the “registrant” of the name. It should not be a third party, nor the web company or the person you hired to set up your website, nor a member of your staff or the friend who paid for the name and helped setting it up, nor the hosting provider.
While this sounds like a logical and straightforward assumption, business owners are sometimes surprised to discover they do not own their domain name.
Many web companies will often suggest an all-inclusive package that takes care of the hosting, domain name registration, setup, administration and management of your website. While this might sound very convenient, a long-term strategy contingent on securing ownership of your domain name from the outset is preferable.
A legal process
Domain names can only be purchased from accredited registrars who will register and manage your chosen name. The IEDR for instance is the official registry for .ie domain names. Registering a .ie domain name requires proof that you or the company are entitled to register the name. “Proof of ownership” means you already own and have registered your business name or trademark. The domain must also be linked to a mailing address, an email address and a phone number.
A domain name is also strongly associated with your brand name, which is often the reason why in the area of innovative businesses, trademarks or patent registrations, individuals or start-ups often secure domain names months or even years ahead of a new product or brand launch.
The recent push to install SSL certificates on domain names (an additional layer of secure encryption if your website collects payments or personal information) is another reason why ownership of your name is critical. When ordering an SSL certificate from the relevant certificate authority, the company name and address submitted need to match the credentials of the applicable domain name.
In other words, registering a domain name – and installing an SSL certificate on it – are legal processes.
Potential complications and worst case scenario
If a quick search on a WHOis database doesn’t list your name as the legal owner of your domain name, you might be heading for trouble.
Let’s say you don’t own your domain name. What if
- the web design company who purchased your domain name on your behalf ceases trading or changes ownership?
- The staff member who set up your registration leaves the company?
- you decide to move host and/or transfer your domain name to a new registrar?
- the person in charge of your domain name forgets to renew your subscription in time, it then becomes available on the marketplace and gets purchased by a third party?
- communication or trust breaks down with the person or company who initially set up your website?
In a worst case scenario, regaining ownership can turn into a long and tortuous process leading to legal headaches, additional costs or downtime for your website.
Etymologically, the word “domain” comes from old French via Latin and coexists with the older term “demesne” when meaning “land used for a lord’s own use” or “land attached to a mansion”.
Would you sign over your title deeds to a third party once you start considering you domain name as your “demesne”, your property or your land?