Can your website be stolen?
Posted Friday, November 19, 2004
Many individuals and businesses have a web site but few understand their rights to the ownership of that site, or their responsibility to maintain that ownership. I bring this up because of a call I received last week from an individual whose website was “stolen”. They went on the Internet the other day to look at their website and something completely different appeared. Someone else was using their name and promoting a completely different product than the original owners had. In this example, no crime was committed. I will explain.
When you create a website, there are three costs involved. The first is the purchase of your domain name or URL as it is sometimes referred. This is the unique address you type into the browser to find your site such as (www.yourname.com) or (www.buymystuff.net). These can be purchased from hundreds of sites on the Internet and are not that expensive. You can purchase these for a minimum of one year and for multiple years if desired. Once purchased, your domain need to be “pointed to” the physical computer that your website will reside on.
The second cost involved is the purchase of the hosting package. This is the money you pay to rent a space on one of the thousands of web servers located all over the world. There are free hosting packages available but they have their disadvantages and I won’t go into that here. Most people host their site on an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that is in their geographical area although there is no reason not to host on a server half way around the world, if it is a good, inexpensive, and reliable hosting server.
The third cost is to have your website created and maintained by a website designer of your choosing. Many people like to do this part themselves and there are many programs and books out there to help you create your own website. Many times the customer will have a website designer take care of all three steps for them and just pay one fee. The web designer sends your website from his computer where he/she created it up to the server and can take care of all the details regarding #1 and #2 above.
Here is where you need to be a good consumer and know a little more about the process.
You are the owner of your domain name and the owner of your website. Although most people grant their website designer or website administrator the power to control all of this, and although most people do not understand the technicalities of domains and hosting packages, you should still have all the details readily available.
If you have a business website and delegated any of the work involved in setting it up to another person, you should still maintain complete control over its future.
Whether you or someone else purchases the domain name for your website (www.yourname.com), make certain that you have the contact details from the company it was purchased from, and the corresponding username and password to access control over the domain's use. Most importantly, make sure you are listed as the registered owner of the website, not the person or company that is creating your website for you. All registered domains have four contact individuals listed on the Internet. Your web administrator can be listed as the technical contact or the administrative contact but you need to be listed as the registered owner. This way, if any changes are made to the status of the domain, you are informed as well, and you should be notified when the domain name is about to expire.
This is how my friends’ website was “stolen”. He was not listed as the owner, and the design company that was listed as the owner went out of business. When the domain name expired (remember, you purchase these for a limited time and then have to renew), the owner did not know it and that particular domain name became available for anyone else to purchase – legally. Thus, my friends website was not really stolen. He was the victim of ignorance.
About the Author
George McKee writes a twice-monthly, computer and Internet related article in the Algarve Resident, a newspaper for the English speaking residents of the Algarve region of Portugal. He also operates, with his business partner, (http://www.grafica-link.com), a web hosting and design firm in southern Portugal. He can be contacted at email@example.com or at his little corner of the website (http://www.graficalink.com/bytedoctor.htm)