by Selwyn Bergman of BMSC-Online
It can be your worst nightmare to wake up one morning and find that your website has disappeared and someone else now owns it. Whats worse is the phone call informing you that you have to sort it out yourself. Think of it this way: you buy a vacant plot of land through an Estate Agent and build a house on it. After a few years the neighbourhood develops and the value of the house skyrockets. The police suddenly show up at your door and tell you to get out of someone elses home that you are illegally occupying. A thief has stolen your house by simply convincing the right people that the deed is in his name instead of in yours.
Thousands of new internet domains are registered every day. Sometimes the apparent owner of the domain may be entirely different from the actual owner of the domain. For example, this domain bmsc-online.co.za, though it would appear to be owned by BMSC-Online CC is actually owned by the author of this article. This is acceptable as the author happens to be a director of BMSC-Online, but there are too many cases where it is not.
This is a contentious issue throughout the internet as more often than not, a client will approach an agent to register a domain on their behalf, the agent then registers the domain in their own name, and makes the client pay for it. Thus the agent receives payment for a service that they rendered to themselves, and they essentially 'trap' the client so that they are unable to change domain hosting services. The client is of course unaware of what has happened until they have a fallout with the agent and wish to replace them. You should therefore always try to register the domain yourself using the hosting companies nameservers, or only use trustworthy agents who give a guarantee that the domain you intend to register will belong to you. To make matters worse, you need to inform the hosting company of the domain you intend to register so that they can configure their nameservers prior to making the application. This gives them the opportunity to jump you, by configuring their servers and registering the domain before (or without) letting you know that their server configuration is complete.
If your domain has been stolen in this manner, the correct way to proceed is to first make contact with the agent and inform them of the matter, in no uncertain terms. Give them an opportunity to correct the mistake on their own accord, using a communication method that can be traced at a later stage (eg email, fax, registered letter). This first step is important because it may be a case of the agent not fully understanding the legal implications regarding domain registration, and in that instance they deserve an opportunity to correct their error. How you approach them is entirely up to you, but before proceeding further, remember that you have to give them a deadline by which to respond. This may mean a second email, fax or letter from yourself. If they dont respond, or respond negatively, approach your Registrar (which is Uniforum in the case of a .co.za domain) and find out if they have a Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. Use it if they do, otherwise you'll have to seek legal assistance. And always try to claim the costs from the offending agent.
Checking the ownership of a domain is an easy process. For .co.za domains, make use of Uniforum's whois facility on their website. Simply type in the domain and click submit. When the results are displayed on the screen, look for the entries pertaining to the registrant. These are the details of the actual owner of the domain in question. Details for .org.za domains can be extracted using a similar 'rwhois' facility on the .org.za website. The Samspade website can help to find the real owners of all other domains.
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