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Does someone own your domain name?

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Many owners of CO.ZA domain names are blissfully unaware that they may in fact not be the rightful ‚owners‚ of the South African domain they are using to conduct their business.

‚Countless examples abound of commercial organisations whose Internet Service Provider (ISP), webmaster or an employee has failed to register their domain name in the name of the company as instructed,‚ said Neil Dundas, Policy and Legal Advisor of UniForum SA. UniForum SA is the organisation responsible for the CO.ZA South African domain name registry.

‚In these instances, there could be dire financial and business consequences for the business,‚ explains Mr Dundas. In some cases, the only recourse would be to register an alternate domain name or to dispute the domain name registration through, for example, the .ZA Dispute Resolution Procedure (ADR).

While the situation is set to improve in the medium term with the formalisation by UniForum SA of the relationship between registry, registrar (eg: an ISP) and registrant (eg: a company): there have been cases where unethical ISPs, or webmasters, have refused to relinquish control of a domain to a client wishing to switch to a new service provider. Any other number of conflicts may arise between ISPs and clients on whose behalf they have registered domain names.

‚Whatever the cause of a dispute between an ISP/webmaster and their client, the end result is always the same. If the ISP/webmaster has registered your CO.ZA domain in their name, even if this is against your original instructions, they will have the administrative power to veto any changes to the domain name record,‚ said Mr Dundas.

In the event of any request to change a domain’s registered details, UniForum SA’s Term & Conditions clearly state that the CO.ZA registry honours the instructions of the registrant. To check a domain’s registrant navigate to www.coza.net.za, click on the ‚Whois’ tab on the left side of the page and then type in the relevant domain name in the space provided. The most important information one would need to check is that contained in Section 2(a). If the listed details do not match what was provided to the ISP then the company may be in line for some unpleasantness in the event of it requesting an update of any other details contained in the domain’s registry listing.

To illustrate, in the event of an update being requested by the registrant, UniForum SA would send emails to the email addresses listed in the Whois Lookup. Typically, a registrant would request UniForum SA to direct its name servers to a new hosting point. Each email would request the recipient to either accept or deny the update request. If a registrant’s ISP or webmaster denies the update request within the required 24 hour timeframe, the request is blocked and the change will not be processed.

Currently, the listed registrant would be able to override the refusal of the ISP or webmaster by requesting that the CO.ZA registry manually intervene. This process is however only reserved for the listed registrant, hence the importance of checking your domain name details and ensuring that the appropriate entity is properly identified on line 2(a).

Unfortunately, disputes of this nature have the potential to escalate into full-blown litigation or disciplinary hearings conducted under the auspices of a breach of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA’s (ISPA’s) Code of Conduct. Accessible at www.ispa.org.za, ISPA maintains a list of reputable ISPs who have committed to registering domains in their client’s names. The disciplinary process can also be found on ISPA’s homepage.

‚Commercial CO.ZA domain names are becoming increasingly valuable as the number of desirable options is exhausted. They form such a critical part of a business’s brand identity and communication systems that it would be well worth one’s while to immediately log on to UniForum’s Whois facility and confirm that your domain name details are correct,‚ concluded Mr Dundas.

Should companies find that any of their details are incorrect, UniForum advises that the matter is taken up with the relevant ISP

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