It’s Your Domain: But What’s In A Name Anyways?
“Domains have and will continue to go up in value faster than any other commodity ever known to man” — Bill Gates
For any musician or entertainer, paying attention to your business is critical and a lot of that starts with your web presence. After all, your website is your “office.” It is also where you showcase your material, sell merchandise, and keep in touch with fans and supporters. Thus, the first step in opening your “office” is establishing a domain name and sometimes the thought is to simply pick a name and then call a hosting company and set it up. Sounds easy right? But, is that all there is to it, or, is there more? Let’s find out.
Basically, a domain name is your internet address that is used to send and receive information. However, your domain name is also an invaluable opportunity for you to establish a uniqueness and brand recognition throughout the internet community. For that very reason selecting and establishing ownership rights in an appropriate domain name is very important in building an online presence. Once you register a domain name, an IP address is created that can be moved from place to place which is important in today’s mobile society. Think of it like a phone number. Your domain name can also be used for the web homepage as well as for e-mail addresses. Thus, the importance of establishing an appropriate domain name is paramount for any business, artist, or entertainer, domestic or global.
So, where do you start? The first step is the selection of an appropriate domain name as well as its registration. However, first, without getting technical you should know that all those letters and dots actually do mean something and some minimal awareness is important. For example, there are names for each part of a web address; they are called “labels.” Each label is separated by a dot. The farthest label to the right is called the “top-level domain” or “TLD.” There are generic TLDs and there are ones used by a particular class of organization. The most common one is “.com” which actually stands for commercial organizations. Other ones of interest are: • .biz—for business use; • .edu—for post-secondary educational establishments; • .gov—for governments and their agencies in the United States; • .info—for informational sites; • .mobi—for sites catering to mobile devices; • .net—originally for network infrastructures; and, • .org—for organizations.
Artists and entertainers (or really anyone for that matter) should consider registering a domain name which somehow relates to any trademarks or service marks they own in order to stake out their broadest claim in the internet marketplace. In fact, the protection of domain names is very similar to the protection of trademarks. Thus, if you fail to take action to register and protect your brand name as a trademark, a third party can register and use a domain name which is identical or similar to your name. The importance is that a party can be prohibited from using a domain name that infringes on registered trademarks or service marks of a third party. That is why it is important for the artist to put together an effective strategy for protecting their rights in domain names. If possible, the site owner should also register all combinations of words or letters that a visitor might reasonably enter into a search engine to find the site. This insures that difficulties with spelling or pronunciation will not cause an interested party to miss the site.
Once you determine a desired name has been confirmed steps should be taken to make sure that the name is registered. Contemporaneously with any trademark registration, the proposed domain name should be registered with a domestic domain name registrar. You might want to also consider registering with foreign domain name registrars.
Ideally, you can register your own domain name, however, some development and hosting agreements provide that the developer or the host will handle domain registration for the site owner. Responsibility for domain registration may also be turned over to another outside party other than the developer or host. Yet, even if the designer or host is responsible for registering the domain name, it is prudent to still provide that the site owner will be listed as the owner of the domain name on the application and the resulting registration. Some hosts have been known to register domain names in their own name to make it more difficult for site owners to change hosts. To avoid this problem, the site owner should request copies of the application materials sent to the registration authority to make sure that they are listed as the registered owner. In addition, the site owner should insist on being listed as the administrative and billing contact to insure that the site owner is the party dealing directly with the domain name registration body which pertain to any administrative matters relating to the registration of the name. Finally, the agreement should make it clear that the developer/host is only being granted a limited license to use the domain name in the development project or hosting arrangement.
Another issue to always be concerned about are “cybersquatters” which are basically third parties that use domain names simply to undermine the goodwill associated with an entity’s or company’s trademarks. These individuals often register well-known marks to prey on consumer confusion by misusing the domain name to divert customers from the mark owner’s site to the cybersquatter’s own site, some of which are pornography sites that derive advertising revenue based on the number of visits or “hits” that the site receives. Think this is isn’t a big deal? Ask Volkswagen which got a court to order the owner of “vw.net” to transfer ownership of that web address to it. Also ask actor Kevin Spacey who tried to shut down a Canadian owner of “kevinspacey.com.” Spacey’s suit in California was rejected because the court there held that it had no jurisdiction over the Canadian resident. Undeniably, the Canadian site caused confusion and problems for Spacey’s camp.
The point being is that simply picking a name and calling a vendor may not be the answer. Many people do it and it does work however, coming up with a domain name strategy and implementing it is probably a better way to handle things. It may not be that difficult when you are just starting out however, as your business grows the task becomes a bit more complex; more records need to be reviewed and you have to consider a broad range of trademarks, products and promotional themes and taglines. Here are some recommendations beyond controlling your own registration:
Compile a comprehensive list of your current domain name registrations including any expiration dates and keep up on these dates so nothing expires.
It is always a good idea to give all registrars a single generic e-mail address that can be used for communications regarding your domain names to insure that the information is always received. Make sure you use an email address that you more than likely will keep for a long time.
Identify any gaps in your domain name portfolio to determine if there are any new names which should be registered or acquired. This topic should be revisited upon acquiring new trademarks or service marks. Also consider registration for alternative spellings of the desired name and for names that “sound like” the desired name.
Use registrars that use auto-renewal for domain names to prevent them from accidentally expiring.
Avail yourself of the many free services that provide bulletins and other information to keep companies advised of changes in the domain name area, particularly new domain name extensions that will become available in the future. If you were not aware, trademark owners are often able to take advantage of “sunrise” registration periods that basically allow them to register emerging domain names before they are made available to the general public.
In the end, the domain name process appears simple. Really simple. However, in the growing digital age the artist or entertainer (or anyone doing business on the internet for that matter) has to look beyond simply picking a name and a phone call. So, to answer our question—what’s in a name?—a heck of a lot.
KEN “K BO” BIEDZYNSKI