You just you clicked on the link for your domain name, and, oops, it’s gone! Yourdomain.com is now showing someone else’s content. What happened?
Maybe you received some email reminders that you needed to renew that domain name, but did not quite get around to dealing with it. Or maybe you did not receive any email at all!
You are not alone in this predicament; many domain name holders have their names taken away by others, simply because they missed a couple of emails. There is a cure period where you can protest if someone else has registered your name, and it was your intention to renew it. However, the cure period is very short, typically 30 days (and not all registrars offer it). ICANN, the governing body, permits the domain name registrar to use the multiple email form of notification. Email, as we know, is not 100% reliable.
In addition, ICANN forbids a domain name holder to prepay for his domain name for, say, 20 years in the future. Thus, we have an unreliable notification mechanism, coupled with a system that prevents the domain holder from working around that unreliable mechanism. If the domain name holder could prepay for 20 years, he could avoid losing the domain name.
As you probably realize by now, there is an entire industry of domain name speculators who wait for “interesting” domain names to become available and then pounce on them. One very successful “Domainer” advises that he knows of no other business where you can purchase an asset, and, with no further investment, resell the asset for 10,000 times the original price.
So basically, the whole system for domain name holders is not very practical or sensible and is very much prone to abuse. Even the phone company sends you a letter before turning off your phone service, and a domain name could be so much more important to you and your business than a phone number.
First, it is important to recognize that you have not lost your website content. You can go to your ISP or hosting service, explain what happened, and they can help you recover all your data and get you a new domain name.
Second, you probably do not have a “cause of action” against your registrar (The registrar is the company where you registered your domain name. Examples are GoDaddy, Dotster, etc.) As long as the registrar can prove they emailed you the notice, they have met their obligation. NOTE: the registrar does not have to prove that you received the notice.
Third, you can try to negotiate with the new domain name holder. In most cases, the new domain name holder will be a professional domain name speculator. They tend not to do anything for less than $5,000 to $10,000. Most often, they expect far more.
Fourth, you can select a new name that is very close to the old name. For example, if your old name was “awesome-domain-name.org”, you could select a new name like “most-awesome-domain-name.org” or “awesome-domain-naming.org” Notify your followers via FaceBook and other mechanisms of your new URL. Do everything you can to move your followers to the new site.
If the current domain name holder sells the domain name to someone else (as opposed to using it to get ad revenue with no content), and the new owner uses the domain name in commerce (as opposed to just placing ads), you could have a claim against the new domain name owner that the new owner is using a name that you used for many years for your purposes. However, following this route to get your domain name back requires an attorney and money.
Fifth, you could go through the UDRP (Uniform Domain Name Resolution Process). This is an arbitration process that bypasses the court system. It tends to favor trademark holders so that if someone snags ibm.com, then IBM can easily get its domain name back. In the case of an individual, typically there are no trademarks (although prior usage for some period of time can be used in some cases.) If the new owner did nothing wrong in obtaining the domain name, the UDRP may not be the way to go.
Sixth, you could try to generate a human interest story around the tragedy and get press coverage for it. Depending on the circumstances, you could put pressure on the new domain name holder (this is unlikely and a long shot). Thus, the objective would be simply to generate traffic to your new site.
Seventh, you could sign up for Google Adwords so that any time someone visited awesome-domain-name.org, an advertisement would pop up that said something like “Click here for the original site started by Bob Awesome.” This could be fairly inexpensive (~$25 per month) and get the traffic over to your new site.
Hopefully in the very near future, ICANN will wrap up their process for granting the new top level domains and you will have the ability to register your domain name in new ways. How about awesome-domain-name.guru?