What is an expiring domain? Could you imagine visiting the website of a big brand just to find the site missing or being used by someone else?
Avoiding this happening to your business is the reason why you should understand why domain expiration matters, what’s at risk, and what you can do to protect yourself.
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What Is An Expiring Domain? Why Domains Expire
When you register a domain name, you’re reserving a temporary sign for yourself on the internet. It’s not permanent; you can’t truly own a set of words that the net agrees upon.
This is a vastly oversimplified explanation, but your domain name is essentially controlled by a single industry of domain name registrars. These companies work with each other to register names, check databases to find out if a name is in use or not, and handle renewals.
For the most part, domain names are on a first come, first served basis. If you get to the domain name first, register it, and maintain your registration, the name is yours for a set amount of time.
If you forget to renew your domain, it expires and can be picked up by anyone.
What about copyright? If a big company such as Apple or Google loses their name, shouldn’t they be able to get the name back through legal procedures?
While Apple is a famous brand, it uses the name of a well-known fruit. Google is unique and based on the Googol (a large number, 10^100). Whether the domain name is a lucky registration of a common word or something truly unique, no one has direct control over a name if their registration expires.
Why not? Copyright issues are important, and lawsuits about something in the copyright world seem to happen on a daily basis. Unfortunately for copyright owners, copyright laws are limited to nations and specific legal systems.
American copyright law is similar, but separate to Canadian copyright law. UK copyright law—especially with Brexit being such a contentious issue—may be similar to European Union copyright directives, but non-EU nations and separating EU nations may have different opinions on copyright law.
International copyright can get very complex very quickly, but the core matter is simple. That’s because domain names are international, and there is no international protection. America doesn’t own the internet no matter what their contributions may be, nor does the UK (as the World Wide Web was developed by a British CERN employee). Nor do any other countries that contributed to the beginning of the internet as it is known today.
There is a dispute process for certain situations of malicious domain impersonation, dishonest registration practices, and other major situations, but if even the biggest brands simply forget their registration, it’s the brand against anyone else who wants the name.
What Is An Expiring Domain? What Happens When A Domain Name Expires
After your domain expires, it’s up for grabs by anyone. Before getting too deep into what happens after expiration, it’s time to discuss what happens just before expiration.
When you register a domain, it’s your responsibility to renew the domain name. This usually means paying your registration renewal on time, and if you’re working with a reputable registrar, you should be getting reminders about the expiration.
As your domain’s expiration date comes closer, you won’t notice any changes in your services. Aside from specific registrars also manage your website or other web assets, there won’t be any kind of warning that shows up for people visiting your domain.
Why would it? Most domain owners don’t want their visitors knowing that the registration bill hasn’t been paid, and that warning could tip off a lot of unsavory attempts at stealing your domain if you’re not paying attention. If they’re desperate up, hackers may even make it as hard as possible for you to register.
What Is An Expiring Domain? How Long After Domain Expires Can I Register It?
There are a set of grace periods connected to registration that you may or may not see. After official expiration visible by domain registrars, there is a 0-45-day auto renewal grace period and a 30-day redemption grace period.
The first grace period may be baked-into your registrar’s service plan. This date may be when urgent emails from your registrar may start filling your inbox, and if you have an in-house professional that works specifically with registrations, their warnings should have already begun.
Once the second grace period ends, your domain name is up for grabs. For random, unpopular websites, you may be able to simply re-register the address later on if you feel like it—assuming no one else thinks of the name first.
For brand domains with recognition, you need to worry about domain hunters while figuring out how to get it back.
What Is An Expiring Domain? Expired Domain Hunting Is A Real Threat
Domain names were an easy way to make money during and after the Dot Com bubble. Some people would “camp” or claim domain names and sell the domain names to the highest bidder.
In the more risky scenarios, web-savvy users would wait for major companies to lose their domain registration. Despite the assumptions of the general public, even the biggest companies have always—and likely will always—have the chance of forgetting to renew.
Why? Why would huge companies with a lot of vital recognition at stake allow their brand to expire? Well, internet technology is still new to many people.
Although there are a lot of people who seem to be average, non-skilled tech users who at least know about domains, they may not know about expiries unless they’ve been involved in an expiration scenario.
Major companies need to hire specific professionals to handle the registration task. It could be a server engineer, web designer, or some other specific tech services professional who keeps registration as one of their major reminders.
What happens when that person leaves the company? Hopefully, others in their department will know about the issue and be able to pick up the slack. What if the company or brand has huge recognition, but hardly any staff, and the only tech-savvy person is suddenly out of the picture?
There are too many scenarios to cover, but the main point is that people are watching. If you have a domain name that is catchy, recognizable, or otherwise known, there’s probably someone who has your domain information on an automated timer, and can check very easily when the registration timer comes up.
What Is An Expiring Domain? Domain Hunting Tools
Hunting popular domains can be done with tools available to everyone. It’s as simple as jotting down names in a spreadsheet and setting up email reminders. A tool called WHOIS can be used to query or ask a public domain about its public, basic information that can be viewed by anyone.
Internet resources can be anything that on the internet, from normal desktops, laptops, and smartphones to the entire Internet of Things or IOT that includes internet-connected security cameras, washing machines, refrigerators, and anything that can get an internet protocol (IP) address.
WHOIS information includes the domain name, registration date, the registration authority (the person or company that registered the domain), and most importantly the expiration date.
Like anything else involved with tech, checking the WHOIS information can be automated, and domain hunters can be more vigilant about expiries than the current domain owners.
A domain expiration check is fairly common, and anyone from a domain hunter to a curious visitor who simply has a hobby or career in web design may look at your WHOIS information.
What Is An Expiring Domain? How To Get Your Domain Back
If you’ve recently lost a domain, you can try to register it again before someone else gets to it. If someone else has already registered the name, you can either offer to buy the name back or wait for registration.
There are ways to subtly request a domain name, which may be better than asking the new owner outright. If an owner knows that you want the domain–whether they’re a career domain hunter or not–they may hold out for a higher price before giving you the name back.
There are types of domain hunting that are illegal, but the case has to be proven through the previously mentioned dispute process. Bad Faith Registration, for example, covers situations like taking a trademarked name and simply hosting ads or clearly extorting the brand/previous domain owner for a payment.
Summary: Prevention Is Better Than Cure
These squatters can be challenged, but you may need a bit of proof on your side that could be gathered more easily by professionals.
You can protect your current or future domain name registration with your own list of reminders, and a good domain registrar can help you remember.
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