I shouldn’t even have to write about this, but the problem still hasn’t gone away. When you set up your website, part of the process is choosing the web address of your site, such as YourGreatStore.com and so on. This is also known as the site’s domain name. It’s fairly easy to register and purchase the domain name online.
But many newbies were unwitting victims of a subtle trick: the web developer they hired registered the domain name himself before building the site. The site is running, it looks fine, everything’s fine, right? Just one little problem – the original client does not own the domain of their site, the web developer does. Why does this matter? I know of a case where a fellow wanted to update his website using a new designer. He went back to his old web developer and told him of his new site plans. Guess what? The developer said, sure, you can have access to your domain: I’ll sell it to you for $600. Otherwise, get lost.
This is a form of cybersquatting. Essentially this amounts to someone taking advantage of your lack of technical expertise in order to make money from what should be your property. Someone new to the web would likely not even be aware of this practice. Legislation has been put into law to combat cybersquatting, so you may have legal recourse. Web companies are doing less of this scamming now because of the laws, but many of these swindles took place when the web was nearly new. Developers are well aware that trying this with a large company will result in very harsh consequences, but if the client is small, the developer may count on the client being unaware of the law, or being unable to afford legal counsel.
In the best case scenario with these developer-owned domains, the developer will simply sign it over to you when you ask for it. In worse scenarios, they will try to charge you an usurious rate for the domain, or they may simply try to strong-arm you hiring and paying them to make further changes to the site – their bid for permanent job security. And they count on clients being unaware of their rights.
If you have a long-standing business under a name that closely matches your domain name, you should have a very strong case for a suit. If not, it may be less clear-cut. In the case above, the client finally gave up and registered a new domain name and got others to develop the new site there. But he shouldn’t have had to do that.
When you set up your new website, the way to avoid this is to register the domain yourself, or at the very least have your contract with the developer indicate that you own the domain name.