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How to resolve a domain name dispute with former client

 3:13 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

A few year ago I designed a web site for a client. At the time they requested that I register a domain name for their new web site and manage all renewals etc. I did this under an account I have with a registrar, I was then the owner of the domain with them having complete control through me (which is what they wanted as they were the type of person that couldnt even set an email up as it was all way above their heads).

Our original verbal agreement was that I design the web site (fairly cheaply might I add as I was still building my portfolio) and place a small link from their site to mine aknowledging who designed it. All went well and they were more than pleased with the final result. I updated the web site several times and talked them thru setting their email address up with outlook several times due to computer restores etc. Just the normal things you help clients with.

Then I didnt hear from them for months on end. I checked the web site one day and they had removed the link to my site and had someone else change a couple of things on the site and a new link was in place. I was a bit miffed but just let sleeping dogs lie and forgot about them.

Couple of week ago, I get an email about renewing the domain name. In all fairness i could have just ignored it and let it expire but I knew they wouldnt want this as they get plenty of business and traffic through their web site. I also didnt want to use my time contacting them for payment details and renewing the domain for them out of the goodness of my heart and for free, especially considering the way they just dropped me and let someone else take credit for a design that was mainly all my work.

I decided to contact them, letting them know it was due to expire, how much it would be to re-new with my registrar and that I no longer wanted to continue re-newing the domain for them on their be-half and that I would like to transfer the domain to them for a small fee.

They were incensed to say the least, saying that suchandsuch a registrar charges a few pounds cheaper to register a .co.uk domain and that domain names can be transfered for FREE and all the rest. I know they are looking into this from a legal point of view too. I could understand this if I was holding them to ransom and wanted hundreds.

I simply wanted to transfer the domain to them, and be paid a small fee for taking the time to do so.

Am I correct in thinking that I could just either let it expire or renew it with my own money and keep it for myself?



 3:25 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

That heavily depends on the country you and the client are located in, which agreements exactly you had etc pp.
To be in the clear, you should talk to a lawyer, noone here can give you legal advice that you should base such decisions on.


 3:36 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Both in the UK. All agreements were verbal. It hasnt got to talking to the lawyer stage yet.

I know one thing, it would be less hassle for both of us if they just paid the small fee and I tranfered it.


 4:03 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Actually, it would be less hassle for everyone if you had a *written* agreement to begin with. But that's water under the bridge (as long as you actually learn from the mistake of not having a written agreement).

Yes, definitely talk to a lawyer.


 4:58 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Okay, this may sound harsh and will probably draw flames, but it's something I encounter a lot (not this precise scenario, but similar.)

You set them up. Asked for one small thing.

Without conferring with you, they back-doored you, hired someone else, removed your link. Okay, no big, customers come and go, it doesn't matter what the reasons are.

Now you're trying to help them again, in spite of the slap in the face, and they are getting upset.

You gave them the easy way. Now give them the hard way.

You can continue being the nice guy and getting walked on, or walk away. The last act of kindness would be to inform them they need to back order the domain, it's due to expire, and if they don't take action they will lose it. You've tried to help, they obviously don't want your help.


 5:24 pm on Aug 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Actually, rocknbill's suggestions is probably least likely to fan the flames with them. I agree- take the "loss," chalk it up to experience, tell them you're not going to do any more work for them, and that it's their responsibility to take care of the issue.

Obviously, if/when the transfer request does come through, approve it on your wide in a timely manner. But that's assuming that the new web person they have working for them actually knows what he/she is doing.

Your registrar may not allow the transfer during a certain period around the expiration date. If so, it's up to you if you want to offer again to renew (this time definitely demand payment for your effort) or let it expire and let them scramble to get it before someone else snaps it up.

I would definitely not recommend renewing it for yourself- that would most likely force them to start using a lawyer.


 12:51 am on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

I told them that I would renew the domain for the price my registrar charges me and transfer ownership for a small fee. They have engaged in dialogue about how domains only cost a few pound with such and such registrar and they can be transfered free and all the rest as already stated.

I have now received an email saying they would pay the fee and to transfer the domain to them and then invoice them. Well you can guess my reply to that to which they replied saying I was being unkind and would they have to take an alternative route to acquire the domain name.

They have been difficult from the start, saying how it should be free, they have sent veiled threats of legal action if I dont transfer it to them, they stated they beleived they owned it and they expect me to transfer it to them in good faith, now they are saying I am being unreasonable for wanting payment upfront and I am the one making all this difficult!

I have replied stating that I am more than willing to renew the domain for the fee my registrar charges, I am more than willing to transfer the domain name upon receipt of a small fee. I have explained how the process works, what needs done, how long it will take etc I have given them ample time, I have spoken to them on the telephone.

2 weeks until it expires. If they choose not to pay for renewal or transfer upfront, then any negative consequences as a direct result of the domain name expiring will be down to them and not me.


 3:40 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sorry this is a bit of a rant. One of the few things that truly annoys me about this work is customers like this, I live on a shoestring and they have no idea what we do for them, and appreciate it even less.

I told them that ....

Probably 10-15 minutes explaining.

.... They have engaged in dialogue about how domains only cost a few pound with such and such registrar and they can be transfered free and all the rest as already stated.

By experience, from a half hour up to two hours with these conversations . . . .

I have now received an email ... my reply to that to which they replied saying I was being unkind and would they have to take an alternative route to acquire the domain name.

Another 20 minutes or so gone . . . .

. . . now they are saying I am being unreasonable for wanting payment upfront and I am the one making all this difficult!

Can't put a time or price on frustration . . .

. . .I have explained how the process works, what needs done, how long it will take etc I have given them ample time, I have spoken to them on the telephone.

Easily another hour used up . . .

So all told, you've lost anywhere from two to three hours of billable time p***ing around over a $10 - $20 fee.

You could probably explain to them how much time you've put into this issue versus the measly domain registration fee, but the bottom line with customers like this is they don't care. We try to care, but there comes a point where a customer's lack of reason just isn't worth it.



 7:13 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Rocknbil you hit the nail on the head! I am still learning how to try and cut losses early when little things like this arise. It's just not worth the time to squabble over little things; in the end you aren't gaining anything (especially not a good client). It's more damage control in that you are keeping your name from being smeared all over the place - even when you know you are right.

One thing I am glad to be getting better at is spotting the nit-picking, cheap-skates before getting into a working relationship with them.


 12:32 am on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

OK i don't get it. You keep mentioning "a small fee" what is that for? Is that for the time you'd spend doing the transfer? Forget it, that's nickel and diming and it's not good for business, especially a small one. Just transfer the domain free of charge to them and let it go. You're spending more time locking horns with them than that "small fee" is worth it. Even if you need to renew the domain before transferring, pay for the renewal out of your pocket, complete the transaction, then send them an invoice with receipts attached (but DON'T charge them for your time, only expenses). If they reimburse you for the expenses, great, if not forget about it and move on.

Whatever you do, don't mess with their domain name, don't let it expire or take it over for yourself. Even if a judge decides that's legal, you're setting yourself up for lots of headache, bad karma, and damage to your reputation for absolutely no gain.

A couple of other comments, do you know why they dropped you? It's probably too late now but i would've tried to find out as soon as i noticed it. Maybe it was simply a matter of an email request not reaching you, and you could've cleared that up easily.

Also, i would never ever register a client's domain under my own name. That would make me totally liable for the website's contents. Think illegal content, malware, etc. And as you're experiencing, if the client stops making payments you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, either you pay for renewals yourself or let it expire and brace yourself for a legal battle. Who needs that?

Anyways, just transfer the domain asap. It'll be the best time and/or money you'll invest in your business (and your karma).


 6:18 pm on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I will never register a domain name for a client in my name NEVER as I don't have a clue as to my next day. I don't care if they can't read I will still set the domain name up under their name/company email address and then help them if needed.

If they need help I charge them if they hire someone else so be it but I won't find myself tangled up in some web of junk that can lead to lawyers or bad feelings.

Let this be a lesson and don't get into this position again.


 12:04 pm on Aug 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well you maybe the admin of the domain but who paid for the domain in the first place? If the client was paying you should had transfered the domain to them in the first place.

Now if they didn't pay for the domain registration then you are the owner of the domain and do whatever you want. Sell it to someone else, charge them as much as you want for the transfer and the like.

From your posts it is not clear if you or the client paid for the domain and what receipts each one holds. If they did pay and possess the receipts (you were merely a reseller), they can get it back for sure through legal means and you can be in trouble for not transferring the domain from the beginning.


 1:28 pm on Aug 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

Thankfully, it has been resolved amicably. Domain has been transfered and lessons learnt.


 7:28 pm on Aug 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

but there comes a point where a customer's lack of reason just isn't worth it.

Truer words never written.

Glad that it is resolved. What they didn't want to understand is that your services are similar to a lawyer or accountant - billable hours. There are only so many in a day and you have to be paid. I would have told them that the longer they kick and scream over a simple matter that I am willing to handle, that the 'modest fee' would increase in proportion to time and hassle. For $100 I will fix your problems today and confirm that everything is complete and correct tomorrow. For $250 I will fix you problems next week, and so forth - up until it is time to say 'screw you' and just walk away and let it expire. Ethically, you can't throw gasoline on the fire by snagging it for yourself. Then everybody has to unleash the lawyers.

Agreed with all posts that state: 'NEVER register a domain for a client' - unless you are doing everything in their name and using their credit card. (Billing the process as a service.) I don't want my name on a client's domain. I do not even want to be listed as the 'technical contact'. Mostly I only work my own domains now, but a lot of lower tier clients are spooked by simply registering a domain. If they authorized a CC for one time use, I would do it for them but my fee for the service prodded many to go ahead and do it themselves. Of the lower tier clients, I bet half went ahead and set up their hosting at the same time, tied the registrar to the host, and ignored my consultation advice about separating registrar from host, and also about going with one of my recommended hosts. People have no idea how bad so many hosts are what it will, at some point, cost them.

I never put anyone on a 'cheap' host. There are a lot of bad hosts that aren't even cheap - and I've used or otherwise been involved with a lot of them. I have a 'short list' of hosts from mid-price and up. I have dropped 'almost' clients that ignored sound advice, 'saved' money, and exposed themselves to risk (after being told exactly what the risks were and certain things should or should not be done). One woman about turned purple when she sent me her registration/host information along with the username/password. She'd bundled the two and 'found' a good less expensive host. I didn't tell her that she'd found a host with a long history of being hacked to pieces. I just said that I was out. When she asked why, I offered additional consultation services, named a fair price, and she went ballistic. Made no difference to me, and my genuine calmness sent her around the bend.


 4:10 pm on Aug 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

Recently had an experience where an employee registered domains we were using for the company - but did it all under his own name, with his personal info, etc. When he was let go the domains went with him. Thankfully he was very cooperative when we asked for them to be transfered, but that was an extra cost that needn't have been spent had he used the company account in the first place.

I agree with all of the above. Keep domain ownership clear from the start. Don't register anything in your name that isn't actually yours.

In your situation I would have done the same thing, but I wouldn't have haggled for so long over the fee, instead I'd just do the work, transfer the domain, and send them an invoice after the fact. 1 hour spent on the phone, 4 hours on email and correspondence, = $750. pay up thank you and have a good day.

At least the domain ownership problem would be solved, and if they have a problem with my hourly rate, that's a separate discussion.

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