Mrkvicka, Reference Librarian
Katten Muchin Zavis, Chicago
On occasion I am asked to determine the owner of various domain names; however, not often enough that it's second nature to me. So when I recently clicked on my bookmark for InterNIC's Whois? site (http://internic.net/ ), I was surprised to discover a dramatically scaled back report on the name I searched. Instead of learning basic information including a contact name, date the record was created, etc., the only truly useful information I got was that Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) was the domain name Registrar. With this information in hand, I was then able to go into NSI's Whois? page (http://www.networksolutions.com/), search on my domain name and pull up a report that closely resembled what I used to get from the InterNIC site.
This whole exercise led both me and the requesting attorney to check into recent developments in the domain name registration process. In a nutshell, this is what I learned. In late 1998, the Department of Commerce and NSI amended their cooperative agreement. This effectively eliminated NSI from being the sole registrar and registry administrator for the .com, .net and .org domains. In November 1998, the DOC identified Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) as the entity that would oversee the transition to competition under the Shared Registration System (SRS).
On January 25, 2000, ICANN announced the addition of 12 new accredited registrars, bringing the total to 110. ICANN oversees the accreditation of competing registrars, who register domain names using one shared, central registry operated and maintained by NSI. There is currently no limit on the number of registrars that may register names, but for the sake of stability and continuity, they will continue to be accredited by ICANN. A list may be found at http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html .
So what's the best way to find out who has registered a domain name? Like any type of research, the bottom line may be money....or personal preference. It is still easy to search a name at the InterNIC Whois is site and from there, discover who the registrar is. The next step, then, is to link to that registrar's website - it is listed in the InterNIC record under Whois Server, and get a more detailed record for the domain name. This method is free, but can be tedious if searching a common term, or if you need to find out every registration for all available domains (.com, .org, .edu, etc).
Saegis (from Thomson & Thomson) has now entered the domain name search game and claims to be the "first and only company to provide data from all registrars accredited by ICANN." If you plug in a name using the Saegis Domain Name Search feature, you get a complete listing of WHOIS information. When searching the name econsulting, I received a list of 27 hits and full registration records, including hits for e-consulting-group.com, econsulting-online.com, e-consulting.it (an Italian site), etc. I didn't do anything but type in the word econsulting, and Saegis did the rest: truncating, imbedding, hyphenating and identifying international domain names. There is a $.25 charge per hit when you run a search, but Saegis provides free WHOIS information for the names you select from your hitlist.
Saegis is great for determining if a particular name has been registered, but at this point, does not have a searchable owner database. For instance, I can find out who has registered the domain name Sears.com, but can not generate a list of domain names Sears has registered. NSI's Whois site does allow you to search by owner with a Name search (name Sears, Roebuck), but remember that the results tell you only what domain names Sears has registered through NSI's registration process - not what they might have registered with other accredited registrars.
And what's the latest word on new generic top level domain names (.firm, .law, .store) that are supposed to be rolled out soon? For that, you'll have to stay tuned....and check out my next Reference from Coast to Coast column!
Editor's Note: See the Internet entry in Zimmerman's Research Guide for some additional sites for searching domain names.