Should I Register My Domain as an Individual or Company?


Domain names are for many people a book with seven seals, because you usually have to deal with this matter extremely rarely. But it is absolutely necessary to take care of your own domain name properly, otherwise it could be gone faster than you have googled how to write domain. One of these important questions is whether you should specify yourself as the domain owner or your own company.

Most important is that you can provide proof of identity in case the registry is requesting it. If details are stated for which you can't the domain might be revoked in the worst case. But if there is a real company a domain name should usually be registered within its name and not an individual.

That was the absolute short version, but there are of course important details and even an exception where you don't want the domain name in the name of your business, but before we look at those, let's take a quick look at what domain ownership even means:

How domain ownership is defined

Believe it or not, the domain owner is not necessarily the person, company (or whatever entity might apply in your situation), who is legally responsible for your customer account at the domain registrar.

This is very important to know. I had so many cases where people simply assumed that they are the legal owner of a domain name just because the customer account was within their name.

However, this is not the case.

You can find here a complete article about who can register a domain and therefore is the owner:
Domain Basics: Who Can Register a Domain?

Only the owner's contact information is checked when it comes to legal matters. For example, if someone claims to be the owner, your domain registrar or the registry checks the WhoIs record and if it contains your name, the domain is yours. If it says the claimant's name, it belongs to them (unless you want to go to court - for example, if you can prove that you hold the trademark rights to the name used).

Common issue with domain ownership: employee set as owner

One thing I hear about quite often are situations where the company gave the task of domain registration to one of their employees, who then registered the domain name in their individual name. Instead of the companies.

This, as we learned, makes them the legal owner of the domain.

Not always is there a bad intention behind not registering that domain name under the company's name. It could be that they didn't have the full company's contact details at hand or made use of the individual contact details because they were in a hurry.

But if the employee is leaving the company eventually they can take the domain name with them. And you would have a very hard time getting it back. If you are lucky you have some copies of the conversation where the task to register the domain for the company was given and hence you can prove that it's yours (or better to say the companies) and not theirs.

You see, it is terribly important to make sure that the domain owner is set correctly. Even if you are not very comfortable with internet concerns you should ask whoever you gave to task to show you briefly what they did and how they did it. This can save you a lot of nerves and a lot of money, as domain names are immaterial goods that can be worth thousands of dollars. Further losing a domain name could mean a lot of damage to your brand: customers are used to your domain name.

When you should register the company's domain within your name

As in pretty much all cases, there are exceptions to the rule and thus to the above recommendation to register the domain in the name of the company:

A good reason why you should not register your domains under your company's name, but in your individual name, is if you want to make sure that the domain name is not part of the company's assets.

This way it would remain in your possession in case your company files for bankruptcy. If the domain is in the name of your company, it will be sold and the proceeds will go into the liquidation measures to pay the creditors. But if the domain is in your personal possession, it will remain yours unless a court decides otherwise.

How to check domain ownership

Until not too long ago, it was quite easy to check who the owner of a domain name was. You simply checked the corresponding WhoIs directory of the respective domain extension (.COM, .NET, etc.). But for a few years now, many domain extensions no longer provide such information in the WhoIs directory.

That's because of increasingly stringent privacy policies around the world (like the EU's GDPR, which went into effect in 2018).

So how can you easily verify the domain owner these days?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way anymore. But the good news is that you can still find out if you are the domain owner:

  • Check the WhoIs directory and contact the domain registrar listed there. They will be able to tell you after checking if the domain is under your name. If not, they will tell you that they are sorry but they can't tell you. And they really can't for legal reasons.
  • If you're having trouble reaching the domain registrar, you can also try asking the registry - that is, the next higher authority (if you're interested in the various parties involved in domain registration this article is for you). Be prepared to be sent back to the domain registrar (unless the registrar remains unreachable for longer)

So either way you find out if you are the domain owner or not. But you won't find out who it is if you are not.

TLDWhoIs directory
country-specific, like .DE, .FR, .CH, etc.individual*, but you can query most here:
whois.com
generics, like .COM, .NET, .ORGindividual*, but you can query most here:
lookup.icann.org
You can usually just search online for "whois lookup" + ".COM" or something like that

It is recommended to submit a dispute request to the responsible registry. Thus, the domain is protected from transfers until clarification and thus prevents that the owner is changed further. For .DE domains you can directly use the online form, otherwise you can google "Dispute" and ".COM" or whatever applies to you.

Now you should know if you should enter as a registrant/owner of your domain to avoid unpleasant situations or even a rude awakening.

In fact, these extreme cases are rarely observed, but they are a danger. On top of that, one that you can very easily avoid.

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