For the second time in less than a week, I have advised a business owner that they aren't the registrant for their domain. On a hunch, I checked out another domain and found the company using it also isn't the registrant.
What's a registrant, anyway?
Here's some terminology.
Registrant: the legal owner of the domain.
Registrar: the company a domain is registered through.
Administrative Contact: the person who has the ability to make changes to the domain.
There are thousands of registrars out there. In my opinion, it doesn't matter who you use.
What is important though is that whoever registers your domain (you or your website developer) registers the domain IN YOUR COMPANY NAME. Or, if you're the owner of the company, it can be done in your name. This is the way things should be.
The administrative contact can be you or your website developer. I manage domains for my clients so in many cases it is my email address that is the contact address for the Administrative Contact. However, my client is always the registrant (owner) of their domain.
What happens when you don't own your domain? Usually nothing. Many website developers (in haste, and with no ill-intent) register domains for their clients because the developer has an account set up with a registrar and the client doesn't.
Sometimes things don't work out between the client and the developer and the client wants to move on. MOST developers will simply transfer ownership of the domain to the client at that point. Some developers do not, and that's when problems can arise.
If you or your company is not listed as the registrant of your domain, you are not the owner and have no legal "right" to it. You may have used the domain for a decade, but that doesn't confer any right to ownership. As such, if your developer goes out of business and closes their hosting accounts or shuts down their servers, you can't call the registrar and ask them to activate your domain elsewhere because you have no right to do so.
I've seen worse situations where the relationship between a developer and client went bad and the developer refused to release the domain to the client. Suddenly, the client had no website and no email. This is highly unprofessional behaviour, but it happens.
In short, you need to make sure you or your company are the owner of your domain. If you decide to switch website developers or if your developer goes out of business and shuts down their servers, you could be stuck with no ability to get your domain back if you're not the registrant.
If you're not sure if you're the owner of your domain, please email me and I'll help you find out.