Updated: Dec 8, 2020
From time to time, more frequently than one would think likely, I get emails from new clients asking me if it is possible to move a website from an errant web designer or a bad web host without the cooperation of that person or company. This may happen because the web developer or web host has refused to relinquish control of the site when asked to. For example, they may not have given the owner his/her login and password so that the latter can access the site to update it themselves. This article attempts to address the problem.
The people who ask me this question usually have slightly different circumstances. The most common scenario is that they have hired a web designer to create and maintain a website for them, and that designer has ignored their requests for the site to be updated. And when they ask the designer to return the website to them, they meet a wall of silence. Another common scenario is where their web host has gone bad in some way (or even missing), and they want to move their site elsewhere.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
This is why, in my guide on how to start a website, I put the registration of a domain name as the first step, something to be done by you, and not something that is done by a web developer you hire (which I only list as an option in the third step). In fact, if you look at that guide, I even listed the signing up for a web host as a separate process to be done yourself, before you get a web designer. When you sign up for these things yourself, you'll not only be properly registered as the owner of your own domain, you'll also be considered by those companies (the domain registrar and the web host) as their customer. In such a case, even if you forget your account name and password, you can easily contact those companies to get the information and help you need.
On the other hand, if you have abdicated all your responsibilities to your web designer, and you have an unscrupulous designer, all the contact and ownership information held by your web host and domain name registrar may well point to him/her. Your web host and registrar will, in this case, not give you any information at all (since you're not their customer; the designer is). Your only recourse in such a case is to negotiate with your designer, if you can still reach him/her. Or you can get a lawyer.
What if I Did Not Register My Domain Name?
If the domain name is in another person’s or company’s name, like your current website vendor, ask them to change it into your name and contact information IMMEDIATELY. A domain name is a company asset. You would not want another person’s name on your checking account and you don’t want it on your domain. Remember: only the person or company whose name is on the domain registration has control over that domain name. Legally, this company domain name belongs to you and your web host cannot refuse to relinquish rights to it.
Moving Your Website Without the Cooperation of Your Previous Web Designer or Web Host
It's sad that I actually have to write such an article, where it's necessary for someone to need to rescue their site away from the clutches of a bad web designer or web host. In any case, for those who have control of their own domain, this method of directing your domain name elsewhere is an effective solution to the problem. I have encountered unscrupulous business people who will hold your domain name ransom or act out "domain squatting".
Contact me for your legal options or other alternatives if you have issues with your current web host provider relinquishing access and proper ownership of your company domain name.