Far too often lately, we’ve had new customers struggling to transfer their web hosting or website design to NetSource Media. Their previous management company refuses to give them access to their own domain name! Is that even allowed? In short, no. Your business should always own your domain name. Any company that tells you otherwise is not being honest with you! A web designer holding your domain name hostage is a scenario no business wants to encounter. And yet, web developers have been taking advantage of domain name ownership for years. How do you prevent this from happening? And if this has already happened to you – what do you do?! We’re here to explain.

Who should own my domain?

Here’s the take-home point: you are the only one who should own your domain.

A developer or web hosting company may manage your domain registration. They may even keep your domain under a master Registrar account. But outside of that, all they need to be listed as is the Administrative Contact or Technical Contact. If you’re not sure what that means, keep reading. We break down all the terminology you need to know as the business owner.

You should be the Registrant for your domain name.
Your developer can do what’s needed as the Administrative or Technical Contact.

How to prevent 3rd parties from holding your domain name hostage

The best way to keep ownership of your domain name is knowing how to prevent someone from taking advantage of you. These are the steps you should take to make sure no one is holding your domain name hostage.

Understand domain name terminology

Knowledge is power. Familiarizing yourself with the terms associated with your domain will help keep you from a nightmare scenario where a web designer is holding your domain hostage. There are 5 terms you need to know in regard to your domain.

Registrar – the website you use to buy or manage your domain name. Common ones include Enom and GoDaddy. You or your website company will also use this site to update any domain name info or change your website hosting.

Registrant – this should be the owner of your company. This is the important field for legal purposes. If there are any legal disputes with your domain, the Registrar will honor the Registrant. Your web designer or developer should NOT be listed here!

Administrative Contact – your domain admin should be someone you’re comfortable with accessing your domain name. This is one place your developer can be listed. This does not mean they own the domain, it simply means that they can perform necessary actions on your behalf.

Technical Contact – this is another option for where your developer can be listed.  This person is an additional contact on file if notifications need to be sent in case of problems, renewal, etc.

Billing Contact – some web hosting companies handle billing on your behalf, and others require you to do it. The setup you have will determine whose contact info is listed here. Either scenario works.

Thoroughly examine your contract


A person with a magnifying glass looking to text: Read the Fine Print

Before signing with a web design company, thoroughly examine your contract. Consider having a legal advisor examine it for you. Make sure the contract makes no claim to the developer owning your domain name. This is not necessary for them to design or host your website. If a developer says in the contract or elsewhere that they must own your domain to run your website, this is a MAJOR red flag. It is simply not true. Not only could this signal problems for you down the road if you need to terminate  your contract with them for any reason, but it also signals dishonest business dealings.

Periodically check whose name the domain is under

While we’d like to believe all developers and web hosting companies are inherently honest, this is unfortunately not true. Sometimes, shady companies change the name and email address for the Registrant to their own info without your knowledge. Then, when you go to leave that company, they may refuse to return ownership of the domain back to you because they technically own it at that point.

Prevent this from happening by periodically checking who your domain is registered to using an online tool like Whois to look up your domain name. These tools can tell you whose information is listed as the Registrar, Technical Contact, and more. If the Registrant field does not reflect your name, the company’s name or your current email address, you need to log into your Registrar account and change it to your own information right away. In some cases, domain information on domain look-up sites is redacted or private. To see who the Registrant is in this case, you need to log into your Registrar account.

Warning road sign with a cloudy sky in the background

If you don’t have access to the Registrar account login, you should be able to ask your web hosting company for this information. However, some web companies will keep customer domains under a master account of their own. If this applies, ask them to make the appropriate updates, and then go back a few days later to ensure the changes have been made. When a company will not give you access to the login information and they don’t make the requested changes on their end, it is a tell-tale sign they are holding your domain name hostage. It may be time to take legal action.

RED FLAG: A developer who says they need to own your domain to run your website.

What to do if a web designer is holding your domain hostage

Sometimes, it may be too late for the prevention steps. If you find yourself in a scenario where a web designer is holding your domain name hostage, the next step is to talk to your attorney. We cannot give you legal advice, but we can say that developers should never prohibit you from accessing your domain. This information belongs to you and is essential for you to do business! It is important to take all the necessary steps to protect your domain so your business can continue to operate no matter who is hosting your website.

At NetSource Media, we are happy to manage your domain registration, but ultimately, it belongs to you. Should you ever need to transfer your web hosting away from NetSource Media, we will always ensure you have the domain ownership to do so. Our ultimate goal is to see your business be successful, and holding your domain name hostage is no way to do that. Whether you choose NetSource Media for your web hosting and design or you go elsewhere, we highly encourage you to take the steps necessary to ensure you own your domain name.

Hire a web developer you can trust

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