The most basic and the “golden” rule of using a domain name (and website) is that you should maintain control as the registrant of your domain at all times! Your domain name is the life-blood of your online presence. You or your business should always be listed as the registrant of the domain name on the WHOIS database as the registrant is the legal owner of the domain. This means when you purchase the domain name, do it yourself. Do not allow someone else to purchase the domain on your behalf and list themselves as the registrant. Most problems involving your website, host account, contractors, etc. can be fixed. But losing control over your domain can be catastrophic!
For example, if you rely on a web site designer to apply for and register your website domain name, the registrant information could be incorrect. The individuals that purchase the domain name on behalf of you or your business often list themselves as the registrant, purposely or otherwise. If there is ever a problem with the domain, the domain hosting needs to be changed or the domain needs to be redirected, sold etc., you or your business will not have authority to do so unless you or your business is listed as the registrant of the domain!
Host providers such as GoDaddy or Network Solutions do not list themselves as the registrant of your domain or website (like all other reputable ISP's). However, I strongly recommend you always carefully read the terms and conditions of your Host or ISP agreement to be certain if you are dealing with an unknown or new registrar.
You can share limited administrative functions with your designer or other third-party. But, you should maintain complete control over the actual domain account administrative functions (user name and password) at all times. In other words, make sure you or some trusted employee is named as the administrative, billing and/or technical contacts of the domain registrant. Any person or entity named as a contact on the WHOIS database has the power to affect your domain name. At a minimum, the billing contact should be someone who you can at least trust will ensure the domain name is renewed before it expires.
Controlling your domain name is also extremely important since you should have the ability at all times to transfer the domain to another host provider at your will. If you use an unreliable hosting service, you will want to be able to redirect the domain name server (DNS) to another host provider. If you decide to hire a website developer to create your website and/or handle the domain name purchase and registration, you MUST read your web site development agreement carefully. You must make sure that the agreement does not contain any language that says that the web site designer owns the domain name or allow your designer to list anyone other than you or your business as the registrant!
I recommend that you set up the hosting account yourself through the host provider and then provide the FTP (file transfer protocol) user name and password information only to the designer. Ideally, you should simply designate the web developer as an account executive without providing any FTP account information (Go Daddy allows you to do this). DO NOT provide your main domain account user information (user i.d. and password) to your designers or any other third-parties. Otherwise they will have administration information to the domain account and could potentially exercise control over the domain(s).
This article was written by Philip A. Nicolosi, J.D. Mr. Nicolosi provides legal services through his law firm, Phil Nicolosi Law, P.C., focusing on startup and small business law, Internet & technology law and commercial transactions.
Mr. Nicolosi serves as a trusted advisor to numerous startups and small to medium sized businesses. This includes representation for a wide range of business law matters including business organization, corporate/LLC governance, regulatory law, contracts and transactions and most other matters outside of litigation. Mr. Nicolosi provides guidance with e-commerce, Internet marketing and technology-related legal matters. He also assists startup technology companies with seed financing, venture capital and exit transactions.
Mr. Nicolosi is also the founder of InternetLegalArmor (www.internetlegalarmor.com), an automated custom website legal document solution.
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