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My new client has the following problem:

They had an employee (I.T. Dept) and who registered the company domain under his name john.doe@somecompany.co.za. Now John has since left the company and the employer needs to have changes made to his website, new emails to be setup etc..

Now, John is simply refusing to give the login/password details to allow the employer to make the necessary changes. It may be noted that John went to work for the 'competition'.

The employer now realises his mistake.

What steps can the employer take to reclaim this information from John?

  • Is "somecompany" your company, or literally some-other-company? However, whatever email address has been used to register the domain has nothing to do with being able to make changes to the website (add new emails etc.) - that is a hosting / mailserver issue. – MrWhite Aug 7 '15 at 10:33
  • When this person worked for your company, were they not under contract? No clause in the contract to cover this situation? – MrWhite Aug 7 '15 at 10:36
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    Are you talking about domain registration, or login details to the website itself (whatever CMS it's running), or login details to a web hosting control panel? Or all three? Your question is unclear. – TRiG Aug 7 '15 at 10:57
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    In any case, if that email address is one belonging to your company, you have access to it and can use it to reset passwords, can you not? – TRiG Aug 7 '15 at 10:58
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    If your company is large enough you can get one of your lawyers to send a strongly worded letter to him. He probably won't want to deal with that and will just give the password. – Jon Aug 7 '15 at 19:29
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If john.doe@somecompany.co.za is on your company domain, then you should be able to access those emails and have a password reset by the registrar. You can then log in and transfer back to a generic company account and manage it that way.

If you don't have control over that domain's emails then you'll need to contact the registrar and ask them to help. https://www.registry.net.za/content.php?gen=1&contentid=31&title=Disputes explains the Domain Name Dispute Resolution for .ZA domains if it gets to that, but the registrar can probably help before you need to go down the legal route.

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    I can attest that this works. We've done this before. It takes a while and is a bunch of forms and identity checks, but you can get your domain name back this way. – Mark Henderson Aug 10 '15 at 9:12
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I just want to add a note of caution.

You say only that the ex-employee is refusing to hand over the login details for his account with a domain registrar.

That's completely reasonable.

It doesn't necessarily matter that this specific domain's WHOIS is labelled with his email address at your company; that doesn't automatically mean that his account with the registrar is any sort of "company account", or even that his login details relate to your company.

He may have other domains on there that are none of your business. You have no right to his account.

What you need to do is ask him to transfer the domain out of his account and over to you. Until you have actually asked for this (as distinct from asking him for his username and password!!), I wouldn't go down any more serious routes.

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    Yup that is true. And the OP talks about setting up emails so they may be really talking about hosting rather then domain names at all. If it is mingled with other stuff it could well be tricky for him to seperate without added expense but then that is his responsibility. Good point that they need to make sure to be asking for the right thing though. – JamesRyan Aug 7 '15 at 22:22
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This seems to be quite a common occurance with small businesses and cowboy web developers. If he bought the domain while employed for the company it is almost certainly their property even if he used his own details. Taking an asset of a company is covered by many laws relating to IP and/or theft although the specifics depend on your locality.

In my experience the threat of legal action is often enough to get them to hand over the relevant details to pass control but you need to get proper legal advice.

Domain name dispute resolution is not really appropriate as it deals with parties with a claim on the domain, in this instance the registration should already belong to the company. It is also quite an expensive route to take and you won't be able to claim the costs back.

Trying to reset the password (if the address is still in your control) would be a much simpler path and would be a good idea to try before resorting to any of this.

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If this employee uses his personal credit card or his own money and his own private email address to register the domain and the website hosting and was never compensated for it (this is a regular occurrence with small businesses), he is not squatting on it and the domain does not belong to the company; it belongs to the registrar. This is not squatting and website purchase (hosting and DNS registration) is a form of marketing and much like the cancellation of a newspaper or magazine subscription, this scenario falls under it.

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If a company employee registers a domain for the company in his own name, so that payments come out of his own bank account, then this may be just due to stupidity. Maybe he found it easier to set up the account in his own name, because you need to fill out information about the domain owner, and he knew his own information but not the company information. On the other hand, maybe he did it fully intentional to have something to blackmail the company with.

Either way, if he now refuses to hand over the website, then he is in pretty hard violation of his duties as an employee, and I suppose financially responsible for any cost that the company has to get their website (which is likely expensive if he refuses). If he doesn't refuse but cooperates then he may be responsible for the cost of transferring the website, but it would most likely be cheap.

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The credit card may be the key. I've run into this scenario a few times when redesigning sites for small businesses, as JamesRyan said its not unusual. Its also not unusual for managers to be unclear on the nuances between URL ownership, hosting and email hosting. Very simply:

URL ownership: You purchase the right to use a specific name as a destination for your website (somecompany.co.za) for a specified period of time.

Webhosting: Your website files are on a computer that serves them to visitors. Visitors find your website when they type in your URL if it is pointed to your server's numeric IP address.

eMail hosting Your emails come and go from a computer/server and are sent to your personal devices, most often with your URL in the email name (john.doe@somecompany.co.za).

Sometimes these 3 services are bundled and performed for you by one company, but not necessarily.

If the domain name and/or hosting are paid for with a company credit card, you'll know who you are paying, and can call and confirm what service they're providing. We've been successful reclaiming the URLs and hosting by contacting customer support for the supplier and proving that we are the people paying for the hosting.

Tenacity has been helpful to me solving these issues. Best of luck to you!

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