How do I resolve a dispute with regard to hosting or domain names?

Disputes are never pleasant. They divert your attention and energy from running your business and they have the potential to use up precious time and resources. Disputes are best avoided. And many can be avoided, simply by raising concerns in a friendly way at an early stage. Most people respond better to a polite request than to an angry accusation.

Not all disputes can be avoided, however. If your hosting service provider does something you can't accept and refuses to budge when asked, or if someone registers a domain name that you think infringes your rights and won't be persuaded to accept your claim, you always have the option of taking the matter to court. You can get help from a law firm that specialises in the appropriate field (e.g. consumer rights, intellectual property rights or trademark law).

However, hiring lawyers can get very expensive. And a court case can take a very long time to resolve. In the fast-moving world of ecommerce, where many of the market players are small businesses with limited resources, legal proceedings aren't often an attractive option.

Fortunately, there are other ways of resolving disputes. If the dispute relates to a domain name, there is ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). The UDRP applies to domain names with all new generic extensions (e.g. .aero), many country-code extensions (e.g. .nl) and some legacy generic extensions (e.g. .com).

Since the UDRP was introduced, the process of registering a domain name has required the registrant to agree to participate in an arbitration-like process in the event of someone claiming that the registration infringes their rights.

You can use the UDRP if you believe that a domain name is identical or confusingly similar to your trademark or service mark, that the registrant has no right to or legitimate interest in the domain name, and that the domain name's registration and use is in bad faith.

Under such circumstances, there is a clearly defined procedure for starting the dispute procedure, and for its subsequent consideration and settlement by an independent panel. For details of how the procedure works in your case, refer to the website of the registry for the extension in question. If you aren't sure who the registry is, you can look it up on ICANN's website.

If you get involved in a dispute with your hosting firm, the situation is less clear-cut. There is no uniform procedure for settling such disputes. Your rights depend on a combination of the (consumer) law in your country and the details of your contract with your hoster.

In most cases, your starting point should be your hosting firm's support desk or complaints department. Make your grievance known in a clear, non-aggressive way; that will often lead to a solution that you both can accept. If it doesn't, refer to your contract and to your hosting firm's terms and conditions (usually published on their website) for details of what you're entitled to do next.

Many hosting service providers belong to national trade associations, which have policies on dispute resolution. Where that's the case, your hosting provider probably has to adhere to that policy.

Often, your hosting service provider will also be your domain name's registrar. Many domain name registries – the national or international organisations that manage top-level domains, such as .com or .nl – don't allow registrars to hold domain names hostage in the event of a dispute. So, if you are in disagreement with your hoster, you may be able to move your domain name and website to another service provider. So you can get on with your business, while the dispute is being investigated and sorted out.

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