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How to Get Back Your Domain Name
Trademark Issues in Domain Registration
When it comes to registering a domain name, it's important to take into account trademarks. Most successful companies and businesses are fiercely protective of their respective trademarks. For example, McDonalds is not only protective of domain names featuring the name 'Mcdonalds' but are also protective of their other properties, including 'RonaldMcDonald.com', 'Grimace.com', 'BigMac.com' , 'McNuggets.com' and pretty much every other character and product that McDonald's sells or markets. So if you attempted to use the name of McDonalds or any of its trademarks in a domain name, you might run into trouble down the road.
By the same token, you may own a non-registered trademark in your own name. If you're an independent contractor with his own business who has used his or her name in business, you may have intellectual property rights pertaining to the use of your name. Those rights may not be exclusive because there may be multiple individuals with that particular name. For example, if you are a star NFL player named Michael Johnson, you don't necessarily have the right to the domain MichaelJohnson.com more than anyone else named Michael Johnson.
What is a Domain Name?
A Domain Name is the main portion of the URL. When you see the URL: http://www.hubpages.com, we would say that the Domain Name is the word 'Hubpages'. Sometimes people refer to the domain name as what comes after the 'www' portion of the URL, as in 'Yahoo.com' or 'WhiteHouse.Gov'.
Popular domain names can sell for millions of dollars. Business.com sold for $7.5 Million Dollars in 1999, at the height of the Dotcom explosion. Other websites are sold or auctioned off on various domain registrars or re-sellers (such as Godaddy.com) on a daily basis for thousands of dollars apiece.
The Domain registration business is like the Wild West of the Gold Rush era. It's a first-come, first-served business that rewards those who register domain names with the exclusive ownership of that domain. For example, if I were to register 'GoldRushMountain.com' today and continue to renew the registration each year, no one else could EVER obtain that domain name from unless they either bought it from me or had some legal right to use that name.
How to Get a Registered Domain Name?
Anyone can go to the website of a registrar (such as Godaddy or Register) and register any available domain name for a small fee (ranging from about $10-$30 per year). Once you determine that the domain name you wish to register is available, you may register the domain for as many years as you like by paying for each year of registration in advance.
But what if the domain you want is NOT available?
If the domain you'd like to register is unavailable, you have a few options:
- You can find out who owns the domain name and contact them to see if they are interested in selling the domain. The contact information is usually available under technical or administrative contact that is required to be provided by each person or company registering a domain. Occasionally, this information is kept private, in which case you must find out through other means.
- You can see if the domain is being auctioned off during one of the multitude of auctions that occurs on a weekly basis. While ebay auctions are relatively simple, the rules for domain auctions can be complex. Often times, the domain names will be auctioned off when a domain owner has failed to renew the domain name by a deadline. However, 'winning' the auction doesn't necessarily guarantee the winner the right to the domain. It's a complicated process rife with scams and loopholes, and I don't recommend it.
- You can check the expiration date for the domain and try to register it after it 'drops' back into the pool of available domains. This usually doesn't occur until about 84 days after the expiration date and only occurs if no one has bid on the name in one of the aforementioned auctions.
- If you have a legal right to the name or if it's YOUR name that has been registered by another person or entity who does NOT have the right to use it or is simply CYBERSQUATTING on your Domain name, then you can file a complaint with the organization known as ICANN, which handles domain name disputes or hire an attorney to take back your name. Some attorneys even take these cases on a contingency fee arrangement -- if they don't get back your name, you don't have to pay their fees!
Take Back My Name!
Fees and Costs
We've already discussed domain registration fees for new domain names and gray market fees for domains owned by someone else who may be willing to sell, but what about fees and costs for pursuing legal channels to get your name back? Here's what you need to know:
- There is a $1500 mandatory arbitration fee to attempt to take back your domain name;
- Attorneys fees may run anywhere from $2500 to $25,000 depending on the complexity of the case
- Some attorney websites, such as TakeBackMyName, offer services on a contingency basis, in which the client pays the mandatory arbitration fee but no legal fees until and unless the arbitration case is won. If the case is lost, the client is not responsible for any legal fees (but not a refund of the arbitration fee paid to a third party).
Domain Registration Blues Poll
Have you ever tried to register a website only to find out that it's already taken?
The bottom line is that your domain name is only worth what it means to you.
- If you have an idea for a domain name and someone else already owns it (but isn't using), it may be worth sending a brief two line email expressing interest in the domain name and asking if it is available for a nominal fee.
- If the domain name is already being used and you don't have any legal rights to it, it's probably best to select a different domain name; and
- If you believe you have a legal right to the domain name, it's probably wise to consult with an experienced attorney to see if a persuasive letter can be written to the owner of the domain to influence their decision to provide the domain name to you.
- As a last resort, your attorney can file an arbitration request to have a legal hearing (by electronic submission) to determine if you have the legal right to force the current owner to turn over the domain name.
About the Author
Author and Attorney Jason Stern has been practicing law for more than 18 years and is frequently quoted by Fox News on technology and legal issues. He has appeared in or on CNN, Good Morning America, Headline News, The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, ABC, CBS, BBC UK, and multiple other media outlets. His offices in New York City handle a variety of criminal, civil and technology-related cases, including cyber-bullying, domain disputes and online harassment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.