It may be trite. It may be tired. But given some of the scams I’ve seen Web services firms pull lately, I just can’t stop myself from saying it:

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

My firm is working with several new clients whose previous Web vendors are holding some of their most valuable online assets hostage. This may not be an illegal tactic, exactly, but it’s certainly unscrupulous, and all too common. And it could very easily happen to you.

You don’t believe me? The two scenarios listed below are true, and surgeons just like you are dealing with them as you read this.

Scenario 1: A group of Midwestern surgeons set up their Web site with help from one of the physicians’ friends. The site was up for several years, but never generated much in the way of traffic. The group decided to hire my firm to update and promote their site.

Unfortunately, we found that the so-called friend had registered the practice’s domain name (its Web-site address) in his name. And now that “friend” is demanding $10,000 to release the domain name to the practice.

The bottom line: Despite the fact that the practice had paid for the domain registration, the partners have no easy way to substantiate ownership and no way to regain control of the name. Their choices are to find a new domain name and seriously disrupt their operation, find enough supporting evidence to mount successful legal action against the “friend,” or pay up.

Scenario 2: A California surgeon hired a Web services firm to produce several videos and design his Web site. The firm registered the physician’s domain name in its own name. It completed the projects over budget and under expectations, causing the surgeon to look elsewhere for a new vendor. The Web-services firm now refuses to turn over the domain name and will not release a copy of the Web site to the surgeon until “current and future invoices are paid.”

The bottom line: For crying out loud, what’s a “future invoice”? Does the Web firm believe that it “owns” this surgeon forever? The physician has paid the firm more than $65,000, yet he does not have control of his own assets. While he does have a service agreement, it fails to spell out who owns the site or domain name and under what conditions the site could be legitimately withheld.

Take Action Now

After experiencing these shady practices firsthand, I’m fed up and I’m disappointed in my industry. I’m convinced that the only solution is to educate medical professionals like you to protect themselves. What I am about to recommend may be complicated and take some time, but that does not make my advice less valid.

I can’t stress this enough: You must ensure that your domain name is both your own property and under your control. It is your property when you are listed as the “registrant” of record. It is under your control when you alone possess the login and password and can make changes to your domain.

Here’s how to check that your domain name is your property:

1) Visit the site of a domain name “registrar” like Network Solutions, GoDaddy, or

2) Find the “whois” option (on the Network Solutions home page it’s toward the bottom). Enter your domain names, all of them, and search for the “whois” data.

3) Review the results, paying attention to who’s listed as the “registrant” or owner, and who’s listed as the “administrative contact” and “technical contact.”

4) Take action based on the results you see:

  • If your name is listed as both the registrant and administrative contact for all your domain names, congratulations! Just make sure everything is current and that the e-mail address of record is accurate.
  • If you are listed as the registrant but not as the administrative contact, the administrative contact could change your domain name or lock you out. You will want to update the domain record immediately.
  • If you are listed as neither the registrant nor the administrative contact, or if the “whois” results tell you the information is “protected” (hidden), you could be in big trouble. You will want to work quickly and diplomatically to update your domain record.

Here’s how to check that you control your domain name: This is fairly easy. Either you have the login and password or you do not. If you do not, you’ll want to take steps to get them.

See also “Be a Web Warrior” by Ryan Miller in the March 2006 issue of PSP.

Does it seem like I’m making a big deal over a few minor details? Go back and reread the scenarios I just shared. Don’t wait until you are at odds with your current Web vendor to try and square away who owns and who controls your domains.

Got the picture? Presuming that your current Web vendor is listed as the registrant or administrative contact for your domain names, work with the vendor to transfer those roles to you.

Be prepared for this to be a long and frustrating process, and don’t hesitate to get help from third parties in the Web-services and legal realms if necessary. Trust me, the minor inconvenience now will save you countless hours of frustration down the road.

Ryan Miller is the president of Etna Interactive, a Web-marketing consultancy that serves elective health care providers nationwide. He can be reached at the company’s Web site,