If your business is like most, it relies heavily on its online presence. You can ill afford to have your domain names hijacked or put at risk in a legal dispute. So, what steps can you take to protect your domain names as much as possible?
Choosing the right domain name is part art, part science. You need a name that will resonate with your customer base, that is easy to remember, and that will also help boost traffic to your company’s site. The perfect domain name can literally be worth millions – and it deserves to be treated appropriately.
Yet, from startups to large corporations, surprisingly few companies take even the simplest steps to protect their valuable domain names. From hijackers to legal disputes, there are numerous issues that can put domain names at risk – and that can put their owners’ businesses at risk as a result. Is your company’s online presence vulnerable? Here are 10 steps you can take to help ensure that your business’s domain names do not fall into someone else’s hands:
Step #1: Choose a Protectable Domain Name.
First, you need to choose a domain name that you can protect. If your domain name infringes on another company’s trademark, not only can that company prevent you from using it, but that company may be able to obtain a court order compelling you to hand over your domain.
Just because a domain name is available for purchase does not necessarily mean that you can use it commercially. The process of “clearing” a brand or domain name (i.e., making sure that it does not infringe a pre-existing trademark) is highly involved, and is best left to an experienced trademark attorney. While the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s database of registered trademarks is a good place to start, (i) a trademark does not need to be registered in order to be protected, and (ii) you can infringe on a pre-existing trademark even if you do not choose an identical domain.
Step #2: Register, Register, Register.
In order to protect your primary domain name, you should register as many similar and related domain names as possible. Register the other top-level domains (.co, .info, .biz, and so on), register variations on your domain (such as hyphenated versions and misspellings), and register domains that use synonyms for the words in your primary domain (e.g., nomadaccountant.com and nomadcpa.com).
You should also consider registering your domain name as a trademark. While unregistered trademarks enjoy certain protections, there are significant benefits to registration – especially in the online environment. Pick up the associated social media accounts while you are at it as well. This only takes a few minutes, and it can save you from major headaches if you wait too long and someone else registers a social media handle that matches your domain.
Step #3: Protect Your Account Information.
When you establish an account with your domain name registrar (i.e., Register.com or GoDaddy.com), make sure you keep your login information private. Do not share your password with anyone who doesn’t need it, and consider using a password vault or other security mechanism to help keep your credentials secure.
Step #4: Lock Your Domain Names.
The major domain name registrars offer options for “locking” registered domain names against unauthorized transfers. When you are logged into your account, look for something called Registrar Lock, Domain Lock, or Transfer Lock. With the lock turned on, you (or someone else) must log into your account and “unlock” the domain name before it can be transferred.
Step #5: Keep Your Registration Information Private.
By default, when you register a domain name, the personal information associated with your account gets published in the Whois Public Internet Directory, as required by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). When you register a domain name, you have the option to keep your registration information private (usually for a nominal fee). The less scam artists and potential hijackers know about you, the more difficult it will be for them to steal your identity and misappropriate your domains.
Step #6: Implement Online Security Controls.
Security controls, such as the extensible provisioning protocol (EPP), provide an additional layer of technological protection for registered domain names. Similar to locking your domains, implementing EPP adds another step to the domain transfer process. In order to transfer a domain name protected with EPP, the new registrar must be supplied with a code that is unique to that specific domain. If you protect your EPP code (technically called an Authorization Information Code (AIC)), it should not be possible to transfer your domain name without your approval.
Step #7: Monitor Your Domain Name Portfolio.
Keep track of your domain names in a spreadsheet (or other tool you prefer), and make it a habit to log in to your account on a regular basis. Review your list of registered domains to make sure they are still all there, and set reminders so that you know when it is time to renew.
Step #8: Turn on Auto-Renew.
In addition to tracking your domain names’ expiration dates, you can also set your domain registrations to automatically renew. The last thing you want is for a renewal deadline to slip by and your company’s primary domain name to show up on the open market.
Step #9: Be Wary of Domain Name Scams.
Be warned: If you own a domain name, you will become a target for scams. Most often, you will be targeted via email, with messages that purport to be from your registrar but in fact come from an unaffiliated third-party address. If you respond to this emails or click the links in them, you may suddenly find that your website is down and your domain name no longer shows up in your account.
When you receive an email that appears to be from your domain name registrar, be vigilant. Make sure the sender’s address matches your registrar’s primary domain exactly, and try to always log into your account directly from your browser instead of clicking a link in an email.
Step #10: Enforce Your Trademark Rights.
Finally, back on the legal side, in order to protect your domain names, you also need to protect your trademark rights. As a trademark owner, you have a duty to monitor and enforce your trademarks. If you do not take appropriate steps to protect them, they could fall into the public domain. Social media sites and other Internet service providers provide online mechanisms for confronting trademark infringers; when necessary, trademark owners should take appropriate legal action in court.
This list certainly is not exhaustive, but these tips should be helpful for companies of all sizes seeking to preserve their online presence and reputation. If someone has stolen one of your company’s domain names, you will need to take action right away. While some damage may have already been done, the damage could become far worse – and possibly even irreparable – the longer someone else has control of your domain.
Contact an Attorney at Jiah Kim & Associates
If you would like more information about how to choose a protectable domain name, how to protect your company’s online presence, or how to take action against an infringer hijacker who has stolen or hijacked your domain name, we encourage you to contact us for an initial consultation. To speak with an experienced attorney in confidence, call (646) 389-5065 or schedule an appointment online today.
This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. You understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the blog publisher. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.