Ask LH: How Can I Claim An Inactive Domain Name If The Owner Won't Sell?

Dear Lifehaker, In light of the new budget incentives for innovative startups, I've finally decided to take the plunge and start up my own online business. Unfortunately, the website domain name I want is already taken by a US blogger. The site appears to be dormant with no updates since early 2013. I've tried contacting the owner, even offering to purchase, but he won't respond. What can I do? Thanks, DC

Angry laptop user image from Shutterstock

Dear DC,

Acquiring a domain name is a bit like playing musical chairs -- except everyone sat down on the best seats years ago and refuse to get up. This has given rise to so-called "cybersquatting" where people purchase attractive sounding domain names with the express purpose of turning a profit from desperate buyers.

In your case, it seems that the original owner was using the URL for legitimate purposes, but later abandoned it for whatever reason. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do in this situation. Much like with physical real estate, you can't take over digital property simply because the owner isn't currently using it. Likewise, the owner has every right to ignore prospective buyers if they have no wish to sell.

With that said, there are a few options open to you. One solution is to go with a different suffix, such as .net, .org or .biz. These days, hardly anyone types an entire URL into their browser's address bar -- instead, most traffic comes via Google searches and social media links. While it would be nice to have a URL that ends in .com.au, it's unlikely to make much difference to the success of your business.

In addition to the aforementioned usual suspects, there's a massive range of more colourful top level domain (TLD) suffixes to choose from. For example, if your business idea is cloud related, you could purchase "www.sitename.cloud" for around $30. Not too shabby.

Another option is to slightly tweak your website's name to make it unique. Try chucking a "the" at the start, an "AU" at the end or a hyphen in the middle. There should be plenty of variations available that won't dilute your brand or affect search engine optimisation (SEO.) While this can potentially lead to accusations of trademark infringement, it's unlikely to be an issue for a dead blog.

Alternatively, you could bide your time and wait for the domain name to expire. If it isn't being used, the owner is unlikely to renew it. To find out how long this is going to take, head to DomainTools.com, type the web address into the search bar and scroll down to expiry information. If you're lucky, you might be able to pounce on the name before anyone else does. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    One solution is to go with a different suffix, such as .net, .org or .biz.

    No. No. Noooooo! Do not buy a non .com or .com.au domain name. It's essentially dressing your business in tracksuit pants. Plus people do type in the full address. Someone with the .com will at best confuse your customers, at worse steal your business.

    Your only solution is to pick another domain name. Always check on domain name availability before you name your business. Spend hours on combinations until you get the right name and strike gold on availability. Domain squatters have taken all the good names. Do not give in to them. Make another one up and laugh at them.

      I don't know why but I instinctively distrust non .com or .com.au domains.

        I am the same. Especially when I am looking for stuff from a local supplier I will auto ignore anything that is not .au

    Poor ABC, that .net.au suffix must be hard and all those non profits on .org. You should be cautious accessing any website you are unfamiliar with. You don't have to manually download a virus, just going to certain websites will do the trick and in my experience .com are much more likely to be high risk. There is surely a lifehacker post about safe web use, things like https use etc

    You said a US company occupies the domain? why not register the .com.au? A US business can't register a .au domain without a registered australian business

    I wish there was some work around, If a domain name is not used in 3 years, it becomes open to other buyers as a priority for 3 months or something.

    Some people have been sitting on domain names for 10 years and ask too much money for them, usually the potential buyer is trying a startup and doesn't have the cash that they ask for. Kind of soul crushing when you got your heart on a name and see it is not being used, just locked away.

    Last edited 04/05/16 6:41 pm

      You love your car's personalised number-plates, and so does your neighbor.
      But something happens and you can't drive for 6 months.
      Your neighbor has the right to take your number-plates.

      What do you mean by "not used"? The majority of sites don't need endless updates. Biographical sites for instance. And what about blogs belonging to people who are deceased? A lot of people who are terminally ill blog their journey. When they die their family is just supposed to scrub their history?

      And as others have said, domain names are used for a lot more than websites. Of the 27 domains I own, only 4 have a website attached. The rest are used for other purposes

    Define "not used".

    Just because there is no website hosted on the domain name (or that there is but it hasn't been updated since 2013) does not indicated that a domain name is not used. It could be used for email purposes, or FTP sites, or some web-based API, or used for dynamic DNS purposes. Domain names are used for a LOT more things than just on the web.

      100% this guy.

    Do your research... you CAN dispute a registered domain name:
    https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/policy-2012-02-25-en
    http://www.domainregistration.com.au/infocentre/info-domain-cybersquatting.php

    My advice: file a trademark, lodge a dispute and begin the hostile takeover of your preferred domain name.

      He can't afford the money to buy the domain, but you recommend him to file a trademark and lodge a dispute. That sounds like good advice. Are you a lawyer by any chance?

      Other than that, you need to be a moron in 2016 to think that a digital asset should or can be taken away because is not being used. Why don't we take away people's savings? They are not being used and I can probably think a way or two how to spend them.

      I haven't read a good troll comment like this for a while. Congrats.

      However if you're serious and over 20, I am speechless.

    Sure - just go back in time and file your trademark registration before the domain registration. ICANN's UDRP policy (in your link) is pretty clear on that + plenty of established precedents that domains registered prior to registered trademark filing CANNOT be "registered in bad faith".

    Reading most of these comments is not disheartening to me as the owner of over 3000 domain name assets. We as a group do get the odd request to transfer the domain name to the "supposed" person that wants it now but like everything there is a cost associated with anything you own. Having owned domain names for over 25 years it is now a viable business within an industry we love and have loved for such a long time. While most people wanting to make a buck on the net with either eCommerce site or within the services industry, so are the loyal people that have loved this industry when no one ever wanted to know about it. Anyone really interested in a domain name should go to NamesCon in Vegas 22-25 Jan 2017 and will open your eyes to the possibilities you can achieve. Good luck and many wishes for Christmas and the NY.

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