I see a surprising number of client crises that bridge my marketing and legal careers. Where one fails to provide a solution, I can often rely on the other to find a way forward. Some problems, however, remain without either a technical or legal fix. Losing control of your business’ domain name is just such a problem.
Domain Name Expiry Cybersquatting in a Nutshell
While some businesses have lost control of their domain names through elaborate hacks or security breaches, the more common problem is rather mundane; the owner simply fails to renew the registration.
Registration of a domain name is a relatively low priority for your average business owner, irrespective of the fact that the firm’s web presence, e-mail, and any number of internal network settings hinge on this registration. Part of the problem is simply that registering a domain remains so cheap. It is too easy to forget about something that costs less than a coffee on an annual basis. Registering for multiple years at a time or enabling an auto-renewal on your credit card further marginalize the registration and renewal process.
When your domain eventually does come up for renewal, your credit card may be expired. If the many renewal notices end up in your spam folder or get sent to someone no longer with the company, you may not receive notice that your domain is about to expire. Some domain registrars will go so far as to call to confirm your expiration intentions, but there is no guarantee that they will connect.
Upon expiry, there is a grace period that will vary between registrars (see e.g. Webnames.ca) and top-level domains (e.g. .ca, .com, .lawyer). This is followed by a redemption period where the domain may cease functioning. If you have missed the renewal notices, this is your last chance to fix the problem. If you notice the expiry during this time, contact your domain registrar immediately and request a renewal. If this falls in the redemption period, you will likely need to pay a penalty to renew the domain. This is well worth the cost if the domain is in active use with your business.
Now comes the malicious part. There is an active grey market of people dedicated to buying your domain upon expiry and selling it back to you at inflated prices. This is relatively easy to accomplish because domain registrars post lists of expiring domains. All they need to do is cross reference this list against active business websites.
The cybersquatter will simply buy your domain through the standard process. When you contact them to request that they sell you your old domain, the cost will likely include a markup of several thousand percent. It is not unusual to see a $5 domain with a new price tag of $7,000.
What to do about Domain Expiry Cybersquatting
I have bad news for you. There are no reliable technical or legal means to get your domain back. The cybersquatter is the legitimate new owner as far as registrars are concerned. This is no longer their problem. There is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Procedure (UDRP), but this is only likely to be helpful if you have a registered trademark that appears in the domain name. In addition, the cost of pursuing your domain through the UDRP will likely exceed paying the ransom. This leaves you with the following, limited options:
- Don’t let your domain expire. Ensure that your credit card details are up to date with your registrar and that your contact information remains accurate. In addition, be sure to use a strong password for your domain registration account.
- Change domains. This is going to be unpleasant, but it may be the only financially viable option. You will want to get IT support for changing your email as well as assistance from marketing professionals who can help you transfer your website’s domain while minimizing losses in your search engine rankings.
- Pay the ransom. For some businesses, this will be the cost of continuity. While it certainly encourages the cybersquatters to continue their efforts, I suspect it is unlikely that you will lose control of your domain again.
In summary, please ensure that your business’ primary domain names get renewed. We can’t help you if you don’t.