How Do I Stop Others From Using My Domain Name After I Cancel It?

Is There a Way to Prevent the Misuse of a Cancelled or Expired Domain?

How Do I Stop Others From Using My Domain Name After I Cancel It?

by Christopher Heng,

I was asked by a visitor how she could prevent others from using her domain name after she cancelled it (or more accurately, let it expire). She had an existing domain with a website attached and wanted to close her site and let the domain registration lapse. On reading my article on Will I Have to Continue to Pay a Fee to Keep My Domain Name After I Buy It? Can I Terminate the Domain Name?, she wrote to ask, "But what happens if somebody else buys it? How can I prevent [others from] using my name?"

On the Technical Front

As you have probably already suspected, once you let your domain name expire, and do not renew it within the grace period given to you, that domain becomes available for others to register and use as their own. On the technical front, there is no way to prevent that. It's how the domain name system is supposed to work. Any name that is currently not held by someone can theoretically be bought by others.

That is why, if a particular name is important to them, people buy and hold on to it even if they are not planning to use it in the foreseeable future. They may have bought it to protect their reputation, to prevent others from using it in a way that would smear their name. You even hear of parents who buy the domain name of their newborn child long before he/she is even old enough to talk, let alone create a website, probably for this same reason.

And it is also for this reason that webmasters the world over tend to buy domains months or years before they start designing sites for them. If they don't buy them at the time they come up with the name, and wait till they can finally get around to working on the site, it may be too late because someone else may have already bought it.

On the Legal Front

The technical aspect mentioned above is not the whole story though. Domain names are also constrained by trademark law and the rules set by ICANN (the company in overall charge of the domain name system). Note though that I am not a lawyer and know little (if anything) about legal stuff. Anyway, in my muddled non-lawyerly mind, what I gather is that if the name you have is also protected by trademark law, you may have an additional recourse or two.

ICANN has something known as a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, which is meant to resolve issues such as those that arise when someone registers a domain that is the trademark of another person or organisation ("organization" if you use a different variant of English). In addition, some (or is it most? or all?) countries have laws dealing with trademarks as well. I suppose this means that if someone registers a name that is your trademark, and they use in bad faith (in the legal sense), you have some way of getting them to stop.

I know the above paragraph sounds really vague, to the point where it's unlikely to help you much in determining if it applies to you. But as I said, I am not a lawyer. And all these things involve the law and, quite likely therefore, massive tomes of legal fine print etched in blood. I'm sure that there are nuances within nuances, so as a layperson, I doubt I can do the topic justice. For this sort of thing, if you want to rely on the law to protect a name, you should probably consult a lawyer.

On the Pragmatic Front

I cannot speak for everyone. But if this were my domain that we are talking about, and I don't want others to buy it, I would probably just keep renewing it for as long as I can afford to. I see it as the simplest way to protect that domain from being bought and used (or abused) by others.

This doesn't mean that I have to maintain a website for that domain if I don't want to. For example, in the case of my visitor, who wanted to terminate her site, she could go to her domain name registrar and remove the name server settings that previously pointed the domain to the website and allow the registrar to park the domain. She can then, of course, also terminate her web hosting account since she no longer wants a website. In the future, when someone goes to that domain, they will just see the registrar's placeholder page (whatever it may contain), instead of her website.

I realise that this is probably not the answer that people who ask this question want, since it requires them to pay an annual fee for a domain that they are not going to use. But for me, since such fees only hover around USD $10 per annum these days, it seems to be a cheaper route than watching out for the possibility of abuse by others and then hiring a lawyer.

Of course, if you decide that the name isn't really worth that recurring cost to you after all, then you can simply let it expire. From my experience running, a website with numerous links to free webmaster and programmer resources, that is the route taken by lots of people. Once in a while, sites that I link to disappear, only to reappear later, owned by someone else, with a completely different focus. In other words, their owners didn't see the point of holding on to their domains, and the latter were bought by others for a different purpose.

Other Questions and Answers on Domain Names

If you are interested in reading more about domain names, please see my list of domain name articles. On the other hand, if you are here because you are considering buying a domain name as a precursor to building a website, you may be interested in reading How to Start a Website.

Copyright © 2018 Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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