I got a hosting package with one of the lead shared hosting providers, and transferred to them a domain name I have had for over five years. Last September I received their email alert to renew the domain, I paid the annual fee as well as the privacy fee to hide personal details in the whois. About three months later I check the domain and find a Chinese page has taken over. Suspecting hacking I contacted the hosting customer support, and long story short, they failed to renew my domain name with their registrar, even though they acknowledge the payment was received and the invoice is there to confirm. As the domain expired 60 days after their failure to renew, and was claimed by somebody else, they say they can't do absolutely nothing on this case, and basically told me to swallow it and chose another domain name and move on. What are my options here?
As the domain was not renewed, anyone was free to register it, and the previous registrar or registrant can do nothing about it. There is nothing to do there, your domain is lost, except if you get a deal with its current owner to sell it back to you.
The above shows that sometimes it might be best to register domain names by yourself. This does not impact where you host the web/mail/etc services on top of it. But if you give your trust to a company to do everything on your behalf you should at least monitor what they are doing very closely, specially on important assets (you can always start over with another domain name but you lose of course of publicity existing on the previous one). Note that they are providers monitoring domain names (among other things) and being able to notify you if some of yours are close to expiration or expired, which may show an impending danger. This may be a valid course to do right now specially if you continue to do business with them and let them handle your domain names because what proof/guarantee do you have that this negative even will not repeat itself in the future?
As now about your relationship with this specific company: I would first start to reread the contract you signed with them. There are probably provisions covering issues like the one you had and, especially if it is a US company, I fear that you may have sections basically exonerating them for everything, and hence giving you no recourse. Do you have at least a clear statement from them where they acknowledge they explicitly did wrong? I would at least press for some sort of indemnification like at least some free services.
Of course, you could also decide to "vote with your feet" and at the very least move all your services elsewhere and never do business anymore with this company. If you are so inclined or can prove some significant amount of losses due to this, you always have the option to go into court, if you have the appropriate lawyer to advise you. But as said before you need first to reread the contract you signed, specifically for the domain name you registered through them.
I'm not an attorney (disclaimer).... You might be able to get the DNS back, but it will depend on a few things and how far you want to take it. The following list may be directly affected by the laws in your country (I am in the U.S.):
- shhhhh! Keep quiet about this. Don't name names or talk about the specifics online or anywhere else -- for now.
- Save 3 copies of all of your documentation (seperately, like on thumb drives, or a CD, etc) Keep 1 in a secure place (ex: safe deposit box), 1 goes to your Attorney (see step 3), and 1 for yourself.
- Interview for an Attorney. You want to find someone knowledgable enough about the internet and domain issues that they won't be scrambling to understand the issue and the laws surrounding it.
- Back up copies of all of your online documents (it may be prudent to find another hosting company).
- Evaluate the money you have spent over the last 5 years to establish, promote, and distribute your website using this particular domain. Then try to assess how much loss you have suffered. And how much revenue you would lose for the duration of the time it would realistically take to re-establish your "presense" online.
- Have your Attorney contact: the company that bought the DNS to find out how much it would cost for you to buy back the DNS, the hosting company about making this "right", First contact is typically a letter.
- Follow up with your Attorney regarding the responses they receive and decide how you want to procede: settle, sue, drop it, etc.
- Follow through on your decision: If you drop it, then steps 1-6 were a waste of time. If you settle, the hosting company is paying you to "go away", but they often ask you to "sign a non-disclosure agreement first" (remember, step one was not blabbing about the company and specifics). If you sue, the hosting company may be liable for lost revenue, and the cost of buying back the DNS, Attorney and court fees... possibly more.
There are other things that you will have to consider while you are doing this. Sueing a big company can be difficult. They have more resources and (possibly) a team of experienced Attorneys. Listen to your Attorneys advice, but make your own decision(s). Good luck.