UNDERSTANDING DOMAIN NAME TRANSFER LOCKS

Domain name investors look for security and portability amongst other important factors when selecting a registrar. Locks can sometimes play an important role in securing a valuable domain name. When a registrar locks a domain name upon changing a registrant or changing registrars that may give the registrant time to notice an unauthorized change and better enable the registrar to assist in recovering the domain name, for example via the Registrar Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy. Locking a domain name may also assist a registrar in ensuring that it gets paid for the domain name prior to it being transferred to another registrar.

Nevertheless, locks are not the only kind of security available to registrars and registrants. Security measures such two-factor authentication (2FA) can be implemented by registrars in order to avoid unauthorized transfers of domain names in the first place and have been proven to be very effective in avoiding domain name theft.

Where locks are imposed as a security mechanism it is important for registrars and registrants alike to be aware of when and why a domain name may be locked. In consulting with many registrars and registrants, the ICA discovered that there are widespread misconceptions about who requires locks and when they are mandatory. From a careful review of ICANN’s Transfer Policy – which is a very confusing document even for experienced lawyers to comprehend – it is apparent that some registrars themselves are unclear on when they are required to impose a lock and when they are not. Similarly, many registrants are unaware that ICANN policy is generally permissive when it comes to imposing locks – leaving it to the discretion of the registrar in many cases. Below is an infographic which the ICA prepared to help clarify what ICANN’s transfer policy says about transfer locks:

From a domain name investor perspective, security must be balanced with portability of domain names. However in order for registrants to ascertain what balance between security and portability is available from particular registrars, greater transparency and education is required. The ICANN Transfer Policy Working Group is currently engaged in reviewing the Transfer Policy, and making the Transfer Policy clearer and determining when transfer locks may appropriately be imposed, are two of the many issues that will be carefully examined. Further information about the Transfer Policy may be found here. The Internet Commerce Association is committed to working towards a more transparent and readily ascertainable transfer policy applicable to all registrars so as to enable domain name investors and all registrants to make informed choices when selecting a registrar. Below is a chart showing the transfer policies for two ICA-affiliated registrars and you can see Dynadot’s recent blog post clarifying their locks here

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