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Who Owns Your Web Site? It Might Be Held Hostage!

Written by John Demar
Published: June 2, 2008

I never thought I would talk to three different registrars in a three weeks about domain dispute resolution.  I also had to deliver bad news to three different clients that their websites were being held hostage!

It all starts with an idea to create a Website.  You ask a friend, an employee, the neighbor's kid, or maybe even a professional to create a site, and everything is taken care of for you - domain name registration, Web site hosting, e-mail setup, and site design.  The site gets up and running, and everything seems just fine.

Fast forward to a while later - a year, maybe two.  You'd like the site updated, but you can't get in touch with your designer.  Perhaps the neighbors kid moved or you're no longer in contact with your friend.  Or the Web site design company went out of business.  Or you had to fire your tech savvy employee. 

So, you ask someone else to maintain the site for you.  The first question you hear is, "What is the account login information for the site?" You're not exactly sure.  You never asked for this stuff from your designer, and he never bothered to tell you.

Surely you can get this information from your hosting company, right?  Well, only if you know the special "call-in code" that your designer set up.  How about just getting a new hosting plan and changing the domain name to point to that new site?  Again, only if you have the account information from your domain name registrar.

Guess what?  Whether you like it or not, your site is being help hostage. 

When you establish an online presence, there are several sets of key account information that you MUST secure and have in your possession:

  • Domain registration accounts
  • Website hosting plan accounts
  • FTP accounts
  • Database accounts
  • E-mail accounts list and administrative account

Without these, you may be completely unable to make changes to your site, change your domain information, add e-mail accounts, or make changes to your database.

Back to my clients...  For one, her former designer developed a terminal illness and could not be reached.  That site shows incorrect contact information, has outdated content, and broken pages.  The designer for the second client was a student who had moved away without a word.  The site still shows a generic landing page, complete with advertisements that would turn a visitor away.  The third company's Webmaster was an employee who was fired.  This one's the worst - pages were removed from the site by the former employee. 

In every case, all the accounts were registered in the designer's name and no account information was provided to the site owner.  What can these clients do? They have three options:

  1. Wait for the domain name to expire (which could take months or years), then try to pick up the domain via an expired domain auction.
  2. Go through the ICANN Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and shell out about $1500 (see the UDRP fee schedule) for a proceeding that may not end favorably
  3. Get a new similar domain name and start the Web site from scratch

None of these are ideal solutions.  But they're all completely avoidable with a little knowledge about the right way to protect the interests of your Website presense and business.  If you haven't to your Web designer, hosting company, or registrar about this important information, I urge you to do so today or contact me to help get your aount data under your control. 

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