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Stolen domain name legal advice

How to recover a stolen domain name

How to recover a stolen domain name

Legal advice for recovering a stolen domain name

Imagine what it would feel like to wake up one morning to the news that your domain name, or even your entire website has been stolen. How would you go about recovering your stolen or lost domain name. 

Why it could be challenging to recover a stolen domain name

Domain name as a legal asset

Cases of domain name recovery

Why it could be challenging to recover a stolen domain name

It would be incredibly challenging to recover a stolen domain name, particularly for anyone who is unfamiliar with how domain law works and with some of the tricks and shortcuts that might help recover a domain name, fast.

Unlike most crime, where the police might be able to assist you, when it comes to the theft of a highly valuable domain name, you might find that there are very few avenues for you to go for legal support and advice. This is particularly the case if you find that your domain name is owned not by you, as you always believed, but by somebody else.

Domain name as a legal asset

Unfortunately, though the matter is crucial to most businesses, it’s all too easy to let domain name ownership slip through the cracks. Many aspects of it remain largely unregulated and sadly many domain name owners are yet to realise that a domain name is in fact a significant legal asset.

Domain names are international, and disputes over domain names are similar to international disputes over land. It is therefore crucial to hold and maintain legal rights to it, because if you don’t, someone may march in and take it over.

Most people take their website and domain name for granted. This applies to individuals and to small and to large companies. Recovering a stolen could involve tremendous effort and the process could lead to immense stress and frustration, particularly, if customers have been mislead or defrauded along the way, by whoever store the domain name.

A quick recovery of the domain name is therefore crucial, together with an online reputation strategy to handle the impact of the stolen domain name, until it is recovered.

When things do go wrong with domain name ownership, it’s not like getting a traffic ticket. Domain law is very different from the type of local laws that most lawyers practice. Simply starting the process of recovery once a domain name is lost is of immense importance.

Cases of domain name recovery 

Experience has taught us that the loss of a domain name could occur in various circumstances.

They range from business disputes to innocent mistakes or negligence. Here is a sample of the case we have assisted clients in recovering their domain name following domain name disputes.

Theft of domain name by a business partner

Departure of a business partner or a director who has de facto ownership of name is one of the most common causes of domain name theft.

The director or business partner might have the business domain name registered to their personal name. When they leave the business, often under acrimonies circumstances, they take the domain name with them to start a new business in competition to the one they have just left.

Loss of registration details

The loss of the email address under which the domain was registered and/or the password to the domain control panel is another way people may lose their domain name. The email address or telephone number associated with the registration of the domain name, might have been disposed with, forgotten or even stolen.

In one case, the owner of the company registered the domain correctly, but gave as contact details an email address such as name@btinternet.com or name@ntl.com, an email address they no longer possessed because they have moved house or changed their email provider, not realising the significance of the email address.

Appropriation of a domain name by a web developer

The Appropriation of a domain name by a web developer, is another way businesses might lose their domain name. This might happen because the web developer deliberately appropriated the domain name or because the web developer or their company might have gone out of business before they properly transferred the domain name to their client.

The domain name that was registered by the web developer was held hostage to a billing dispute with you, and was subsequently sold in an auction under a small section of the terms-and-conditions agreement that you signed with your web developer.

The web developer who purchased the domain name on the organisation's behalf has gone out of business or left the company, or was a friend with whom the business owner fell out with the result that when the renewal of the domain name comes, so no one is responding to the renewal reminders with the consequence that the domain name is lost.

Inappropriate registration of the domain name by web developers

We have come across cases where a web developer, deliberately—or more likely out of ignorance—improperly registered the domain name to themselves or to their own company. In other cases, the web developer, deliberately or out of negligence, did not renew the domain name. The web developer did not have a system of renewals in place for their clients and was only relying on automated email reminders from the registrar, which for one reason or another, they never received.

Appropriation of a domain name by an employee

In a number of cases where we were called to help with the recovery of a stolen domain name, the domain name was registered by a former employee of the company who still holds the log-in details for the domain name control panel.

It is possible that the employee improperly registered the domain name to themselves but in most cases, it will be possible to prove that there registration of the domain name by the employee was done on behalf of the company, even if the employee used her own credential to register and even of she paid for the domain name with her own personal credit card.

Loss of a domain name due to domain registrar issues

There have been a number of cases where the domain name was registered correctly, but changes in the contact details, particularly the email address, were not recorded with the registrar. In other cases, the domain name was registered correctly, but it infringed upon somebody else’s trademark. This can happen if no one bothered to carry out a trademark check before choosing the name of their new company and subsequently purchasing related domain names.

Theft of a domain name by hackers

In a number of cases, the registration account of the legal owner of the domain name was hijacked The domain name was stolen by professional domain name thieves for the purpose of cybersquatting, blackmail or upon the order of a third party.

Former business partner theft of domain name

In one case, a former partner and director accessed the domain name account through credit card information, which was left in the account after he departed from the company. He then changed the domain name ownership details to himself and removed access to the domain name account from the previous company.

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