NPR had a tidbit this morning about the Bluff City, TN police department that lost its internet domain name, to a disgruntled citizen who is now using the site to complain about the department.

I have little sympathy for the police department in this case. The rules for internet domain names are very clear. With a little shopping around, domain names cost $10 or less per address per year and can be rented up to 10 years ahead. If the registration does run out, the domain registrars are very aggressive with their renewal emails. And even if you blow them off until the last minute, there’s a generous grace period during which your site is down but you still have a “preferred right” to renew before the domain goes back into the public pot. If the city didn’t deliberately waive their claim to the right to the domain by not renewing, they were certainly negligent – and more negligent for not noticing when the domain went down.

There is an interesting side discussion about whether internet domains should be permanently ownable rather than merely rented. But we’ll leave that for another day.

Lessons for a small businesses from the Bluff City PD story:

  • If you have a website (and who doesn’t these days), rent your domain name as far out as you can.
  • Buy the domain using a role-based email address such as and set that ID up to forward to your IT person. Avoid setting up the account with the IT person’s ID directly because it’s too easy to forget when the individual moves on. And if you don’t, you won’t get the renewal notices.
  • Make a conscious decision about the alternate domains you want to buy at the same time. If you own .com, you might also want .net, .org, etc. You might also want to think about local variants and names that align with your brand, your products, etc. Domains are cheap.
  • Having said that, I recommend against trying to preemptively buy derogatory or pejorative names such as Even at only $10 per name, you could never afford all the variants. Who, for example, would think of buying (a domain that the court recently ruled is a legitimate satire site).

Domain names are part of your company’s intellectual property. Protect them appropriately.

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