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Lawyers Need to Ask “Why Not?”

What Are Your Rights to the Domain?

Traverse Legal does a lot of work with domain name disputes. This is work that puts us in contact with clients from across the globe, and legal bodies that often reside even farther - through whom we arbitrate these disputes.

However, an interesting debate with regard to the work we do is of the exact nature of the domain name. Is the name that fills the browser address bar a form of intellectual property that can be owned and protected as such, or is it simply something rented from dedicated servers - only as permanent as the payments made to keep the URL?

As Ellen Pony, over at the Domain Name Handbook writes: "What are your long term plans for your domain name? Do you expect to convey the name and the goodwill associated with it to an interested buy or bequeath it to your heirs? Perhaps you intend to use the domain name to secure a loan for a business expansion or for your child's college tuition. You may be in for a surprise." 

As she goes on, Network Solutions a registry organization with whom my firm operates, is said to force any registrant to agree to 24 terms and conditions in the Service Agreement, which includes:

23. NON-ASSIGNMENT. Your rights under this Agreement are not assignable. Any attempt by you to assign your rights shall render this Agreement voidable at our option. Any attempt by your creditors to obtain an interest in your rights under this Agreement, whether by attachment, garnishment or otherwise, shall render this Agreement voidable at our option.

Now, her article is a little dated, and despite the fact that I could not find that exact point in the Service Agreement over at Network Solutions, this brings to light an issue that, if nothing else, should be fully understood before you start paying for your domain name: your long term rights to the name that will fill your clients' address bar.

Its so important to be aware of your options underneath any service agreement because of the fact that your website is one of the major aspects of your business, something that will hopefully be operating for a lot longer than your time in the office. So when it comes time to bequeath your firm to the next generation of high-tech attorneys, is it going to be within your power to hand over the domain name along with the keys to the door? Or, as Ellen Pony stated, what about selling your reputable URL to the highest bidder? Is that an option that is going to be in your hands, or, like in her example, void the contract that gives you the domain?

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