Domain rights

Hello everyone, first time posting here! I have a dilemma and I respectfully ask that those with legal 'net knowledge give some insight to the issue…

Here’s how it goes: There was originally a community website owned by another person (let’s call him Bob) using a different webhost. Bob had problems with keeping up the site’s maintenance, and after a few hacking attacks he let me take over its development and maintenance.

So I decided to scrap everything in the original website, and build a new one on my DreamHost account. Bob retained ownership of the domain and pointed the domain to my account.

I then set to work building the community website, and in time amassed a decently-sized and popular website with plenty of user content and customizations to the web applications I installed from scratch. Bob pretty much disappeared the entire time (for almost a year), dropping by every couple of months or so.

The last couple of months, me and other admins started building a new version of the site, to be placed on a different domain. We were going to just redirect the original domain to the new one, and slowly phase out the old domain until the new one came into dominance.

Bob was never a very likable guy in the first place, and recently we had a quarrel with Bob on how the site was managed. Bob then proceeded to redirect his old domain to another website without any warning, and we were forced to put the old site on the new domain prematurely. It goes without saying that it damaged the community on a large scale due to the confusion it caused, and we banned Bob as a result for web abuse.

This is not the primary issue. A month later Bob came back and sent me this message:

[quote]I will keep this short and sweet. Take down any forum posts and information prior to me switching the dns servers . You may, or may not be aware of the rights of a domain owner, the fact of the matter is who can claim the domain at any point in time, also can claim any content.

You are currently collecting money via google ads and various other affiliate programs on what I consider my property. You can take this message as you will, but I will and intend to fight this to the letter of the law and will pursue this in a legal fashion. It would behoove you to yield to this request and comply.

Should you decide not to comply with my reasonable request, I will be forced to pursue any and all civil actions against you and all parties associated with (the new domain/site) for costs, damages and associated fees.

Thanks for your consideration in this matter.


I want to know how much right he has to claim to own the content of the site. I owned the webhosting account afterall, none of the content in the site was made by him or was originally his, all he happened to own was the web domain that it pointed to for less than a year. And now all the site content is located on the domain that I own.

Who has more rights to the content? It’s like saying that I could purchase a domain, point it to any site, and then claim to own it. Granted it was to dreamhost’s dns server and I registered it to the dreamhost account, but in my opinion that makes for a massive gray area.

Your thoughts are most appreciated, thanks!

(By the way, we’re complying to his demands and will be rolling in the new site tonight on our own domain/account. But I would still like to get this straightened out, and may want to archive the old content for public access. Also, the only revenue generated were from google ads, which is registered to my google account)

The best place to ask this question would be the legal section of, where they do have domain lawyers who come by to help with questions like this from time to time (at least they did when I hung there a little).

This is not “legal advice”, but what I myself would do would be to send him a reply that says “Go get f’d”.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain

I’m surprised he claimed the ownership of the content. For my sites, my little disclaimer says that content is copyright of the creator. I wouldn’t want to claim ownership of all content; especially if some of it may be slanderous or otherwise legally questionable (not that it is, but who knows what might show up).

What copyrights or legal print was on the site? Anything claiming rights?

I’m not a lawyer, but I just don’t see how he can claim ownership of content he did not create.


Wow. I have nothing to add from the legal perspective other than the advice from dwr and scott sounds good to me, but I did want to chime in with sympathy for your position.

I have a friend who had a similar situation with a real-world business where they formed a company together and then the “other guy” left to pursue other opportunities. He later came back to claim his ownership rights and I think he had to be given a big payout to go away. This was a different situation from yours because there were actual business ownership interests involved.

A couple of extra thoughts:

  1. I know your situation probably wasn’t an official business, but one thought process is to consider what the conclusion would be if it were. Is there any current monetary value in the site and what would Bob’s share be if he were considered an equal partner in the venture?
  2. People who threaten legal action aren’t the ones who take legal action. The first you’ll hear from those folks will be the legal notifications.
  3. Don’t take legal advice from anyone who hasn’t studied law. Common sense doesn’t apply in the courtroom. (please apply this to me)
  4. Bob is probably just ticked off for some reason and looking for revenge. See what you can do to find out what’s really bothering him without “admitting” anything that will be damaging in court.
  5. I’d really like to see how this would play out in front of Judge Judy. Have you considered proposing this to Bob? I think the show pays for any judgment.

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A domain is not an entity and therefore cannot hold ownership under law.

For Bob to successfully sue you he’d have to show that the content is legally his (by entity) and, more importantly, that he suffered damages directly by your use of the content. I’d probably reply to his email with:


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I’m not a lawyer, so anything I say is not legal advice.

I don’t see how ownership of a domain has any relevance to the ownership of any content that may at some point have appeared within that domain. Under copyright law, rights to material belong to the creator of the material unless otherwise contracted, so in a community participation site (like a forum or wiki) the content ownership is likely to be spread out over many people, not just the site or hosting or domain owner, who would just own whatever part of the content they actually contributed themselves. If the site posted terms of use that assigned ownership otherwise, this might apply.

There is also the possibility of trademark rights to the name or logo of a site, but that is independent of ownership of the domain name (there are many legal cases and arbitration cases under policies like UDRP concerning issues where trademark and domain rights conflicted).

– Dan