West Hills Web

Is Your Web Developer Holding You Hostage?

Is-Your-Web-Developer-Holding-You-HostageThis might seem like a strange question, but is your web developer holding you hostage?

Here’s a more troubling question: How would you know, either way???

So let me give you a little background, and within about 3 minutes, you’ll know the answer to both questions.

For you to have a website for your local business, you basically need three major pieces:

  • The website itself — Your website is the content, whether text, graphics, video, or audio that makes up your website. It’s usually a result of the work that your web developer did for you.
  • Website Hosting — All of that content needs to be on a computer somewhere, and that computer has to be connected to the Internet. That computer is called a “web server”…and someone (or some company) owns the web server.
  • Domain Name — Separate from your website content, and separate from the computer, is the name of that website. Names are bought (actually, they are leased) from companies called “Registrars”. You typically buy your domain name for one or more years at a time.


There are three ways that someone can hold you and your website hostage. The first is if someone else actually owns your domain name. I’ve seen this many times — most recently with our local elementary school PTA. Some volunteer who was working on the site for the PTA actually bought the domain name in her own name.

So when the PTA itself wanted to make some important decisions about their website, they couldn’t do it…because the domain name itself was held captive by this “volunteer.”

Another way for your website to be held hostage is if your web developer (or someone else) is the only person who knows your login information for your hosting account. If you can’t log into your web host, you typically can’t update your website.

I once was asked to rebuild a site for a youth organization in support of the arts. The site’s former developer wouldn’t give the site’s owner the login information to their hosting company, and that prevented them from hiring me (or anyone else) from downloading their website so they could rebuild it elsewhere.

Months of time were lost while we waited for the client to treat the former developer with kid gloves so that he would eventually give them the old website content.

The third way your site can be held hostage is really a technological issue. It used to be that websites were built using HTML. Now, HTML is still the “language” of the Web, but you no longer need to know how to use HTML (or even how to spell it) in order to make a site.

What you need these days is something called a “content management system” (CMS) that allows you (as the site owner) or me (or any up-to-date web developer) to log in and add or change content.

You can add text, photos, drawings, audios and even videos in just minutes, which is something that used to either be impossible, or used to take hours or days to accomplish. These days, even YOU can update your own website.

So how can you avoid having your website held hostage by anybody? You need just three things.

  1. Make sure YOU own your own domain name and have the username and password for your account.
  2. Make sure YOU own your own hosting account and have the username and password for your account.
  3. Make sure YOUR SITE is built on a Content Management System (like WordPress). Your Wordpress CMS will have its own username and password, so make sure you have those, too.

But what do you do IF YOU ARE BEING HELD HOSTAGE? That’s easy.

Call me. I can help you get free from whatever’s limiting you. 818-592-6370 x701.

To Your Success,

–Mark Widawer

22 thoughts on “Is Your Web Developer Holding You Hostage?”

  1. Hello, my name is Butler.

    I am very distraught at the moment because the person I had hired to create my website is not responding. I had been living in Saudi Arabia for 2 years in order to complete my website facewordz.com. There are some serious technical issue that need tending to but the entity I had paid in full is not taking care of their end of the deal. I am really clueless as to how to proceed but i do have all the documentation/receipts and contract to support my claim as owner of facewordz.com. I am currently in Jakarta Indonesia and the company that i am using as a server is in Saudi Arabia. How do I go go about transferring the server to a company in Jakarta so that I can directly take care of a site that i have worked so hard on??
    I would appreciate any advice that can help remedy the situation.

    D Butler Ross

    • Hello Butler.

      There are a few issues here. The first is who owns the domain name. If that’s you, then it ought to be easy to make sure that you are recognized by your registrar that you are the rightful owner.

      Your whois record is here:


      And it appears as though you have a “private registration” which means that (presumably) you have hired someone to keep your personal identity separate from those looking for info about Facewordz.com

      In any case, if it’s your domain, contact the address listed there, or the people you know you’ve registered the site with.

      As for the coding itself, that can be more difficult. Since the site is hosted overseas, and the laws there are different than those in the USA, I’m not sure how successful you’ll be if the hosting company is not cooperative.

      The fact that you are thousands of miles away also makes things tough.

      If the developer of the site is hosting your site as well, the prospects are not good. Lucky for you, according to this page at Netcraft.com (http://toolbar.netcraft.com/site_report?url=http://www.facewordz.com) your site is hosted at Aplus.net, a hosting company based in the USA. I recommend you contact support at Aplus (http://www.aplus.net/company/contact/) and tell them your situation.

      They’re your best hope at getting your programming data into your possession.

      That said…there are no guarantees. They may view your developer as the owner of the site, and not be cooperative.

      The documentation you have about your ownership of the Intellectual property may help.

      Good luck!


  2. Mark,

    I want to first thank you for taking the time to answer my inquiry. It’s much appreciated.
    I have done what you said by contacting Aplus in the US. I also have Saudi friends who know about my problem and if this IT guy is up to something fishy they vowed to make sure he doesn’t get away with it. I hope that it doesn’t go that way but who knows?
    I will let you know the outcome as soon as I hear from Aplus. I do recall corresponding with Aplus a couple months ago while in Saudi with the IT guy sitting with me as we requested to verify the official owner of facewordz.com and Aplus said that I was the owner> David Butler Ross. But since this guy hasnt contacted me for so long I have so many paranoia type of sabotage thoughts running through my head as I was warned that these IT guys can be very tricky if one is not careful.
    Anyway thanks again!!!

    • You’re welcome, Butler.
      I hope things work out well for you.
      Here is a rule for you, going forward: Always buy your own domain names in your own account with your own credit card. Don’t let someone else do it for you, or you may get into a jam like this one.
      Now, it’s entirely possible that this guy is legit, but somehow indisposed (legally, medically, etc).
      Hopefully, he’s not willfully withholding your site from you.
      That said, it wouldn’t much matter if it were easy for you to log into your domain registrar, or to call them and verify your identity. What you don’t know, at this point, is whether the site was registered in your name or not.
      That’s because you’ve got a ‘private registration’.
      Now, if you had the login for the company that did your private registration, then perhaps you could recover everything without your progammer’s help.
      Contact the folks at “Domain Listing Agent” and see if they can verify you as the owner. It’s worth a shot.
      Good luck.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Our previous web developer is holding our domain name microlincooper.com. We have had a new website built under a co.uk domain, but we really need our name back because we spent years marketing the .com name!
    Are there any ways of getting our name back with avoiding a lawsuit?

    • Hello Yasmine.

      I think we need to start with a few questions.
      1) Why is he holding your domain hostage?
      2) Have you asked him to release it to you?

      The best way to resolve the issue,of course, would be peacefully. But if the guy isn’t going to play nice, you don’t have to, either.

      Here is the WHOIS information for your domain name.


      You can see that the domain was purchased here:

      Fasthosts Internet Limited, [email protected]
      +44.8708883760 (fax)

      I would contact that company and ask them what their procedure is for recovering a hijacked domain. They will likely want to be able to verify who you are, as a representative of your company. That might be enough to get them to transfer ownership of the domain to you. However, they may want to see some documentation that shows that your former web developer bought the domain on your behalf, at your instruction. If you have a contract that lays out the facts, then it’s likely that showing that contract — or even a series of emails — that proves your case might be enough.

      If that’s not enough, consider filing a complain with the InterNIC — the corporation in charge of domain name registration. You can find information on domain name dispute resolution at their site here.

      I hope that helps. If it does, please update us all here.

      –Mark Widawer

  4. We have a very similar situation to the guy before. Our web hosting company registered our domain name as another company Tekware S.A.
    We tried calling and emailing the company but get told that the person who handles that is on vacation etc. The numbers they have just have answering services on them. One guy I did speak with told me to email this one guy and then hung up on me.
    My question is where do I go from here? Our website has been down for over two weeks and it’s hurting our business to not have it up. Please help.


    • Cayley,
      If it’s the hosting company itself that did this, then that’s a real problem. I’m guessing what you mean is that some other individual or company registered your domain. If your domain has been yours for a long time, and you can prove that someone hijacked it, I’d say that your best approach is to take it up with the Internic’s domain name dispute division.
      That said, if you can handle it directly with the person or company who registered your domain name, that would be better and faster — and probably cheaper in the long run.
      If you shared some details (the actual domain name, your actual company name, their actual company name, for example) that would be helpful.

  5. Hi,

    Our website was http://www.bowvalleymotel.com, the company that hosted our site as well as advertise was called Rockies Media but it’s also called Niche Media. Our registration came up and the hosting company registered it to this Tekware S.A. in Costa Rica not in our name.
    Neither of their companies had anything to do with the Bow Valley Motel. After numerous calls and emails to the company we received this:

    “Niche Media is the advertising arm of your agreement with us. We contracted for you hosting to Tekware, S.A. We have used their servers in the past. We contract to buy server space from them.

    Tekware has closed its doors as a practicing business but they are still running their servers. I have sent over a request to have them transfer registration to you. I have not heard back from them yet.

    I will keep you posted. Randy”

    I have also contacted the registration claims dept. at Go Daddy where the site was registered and also filed a complaint at Internic but so far haven’t heard anything from either.

    There anything else I can do? Or is this just a waiting game? We’ve changed our website and re hosted it to .ca but so many of our guests know our business as .com so we feel we have already lost a lot of business during our peak season. The company that we dealt with also isn’t even leaving our site as not available but redirecting our traffic to http://accommodationsincanmore.com/.

    Any help would be helpful!


    • Hello Cayley.
      I checked your “whois” record, which is a public record of your website’s registration. You can see it here:
      What you have written all seems accurate.
      The good news is that GoDaddy is usually pretty responsive to such things. My suggestion would be to call them on the phone and explain your situation. My guess is that they will do what NetworkSolutions does, which is to ask you to send in some proof of your own identity and affiliation with your company.
      Once they see that, hopefully they will help you arrange the transfer.
      That said…
      Since you also have the email address (on that whois page) of the Admministrative contact (Castillo, Raquell), you should be able to send an email to her and ask for her to transfer the domain to you. If Tekware is a reputable company, they should accommodate your request — probably for the cost of reimbursing them for the registration that they paid for (about $10).
      Once you’ve got control of your domain name, you might also consider switching where it is hosted. Frankly, for the people at Rockies.com to have given your domain away is irresponsible, and I would not want them doing anything for me if I were you.
      I recommend Hostgator for your web hosting. One of the nice things about them (besides the near perfect uptime, excellent tech support, and very very low pricing) is that they will move your domain to their servers for you for free. If you don’t know how to do that yourself, you’d have to pay someone for a couple hours time at least, which could range from $50 to $100 or more.
      Go to http://www.HostgatorFreeTransfer.com and look at the bottom right corner of the page for info about the free move.
      Good luck, and please post here again and let us all know what happens with Godaddy, Tekware, and Hostgator.

  6. Hello,

    my web designer half way through a build decided this domain was better than the domain we originally agreed upon which was multicolorsapphire.com in which i purchased all variations for 10 years on the name. Subsequent to the site being finished and 60 days after purchase of the domain i still cant get an idea as to when he will surrender the domain over to me.

    I rang the domain company and they said theres nothing they can do without a court order. Well I have my girls in the office today contact a lawyer to see the costs involved to get back my domain. Any advice to avoid this from happening would be helpful


    • Hello Trent.

      I’m not sure I understand your question, so please let me know if I’ve got this correct.

      You paid a developer to build a site for you at multicolorsapphire.com. He’s got about half way through, but decided to put it on RainbowSapphireJewelers.com instead. Right so far?

      And you’re saying that he has not yet “surrendered” the domain to you.

      Here’s what I see.

      You are the owner of both of the domain names, as you can see here:


      So that means you control the names of the websites.

      However, you probably don’t have control of the web hosting account where the site is hosted. Have I got this right?

      So, the issue is NOT the domain company (the folks who told you to get a court order) but with the web developer (the seemingly uncooperative guy who is giving you the run around) or the Web Host.

      So here’s what I would do.

      1) Try to get your web designer to be reasonable and either finish the project as agreed, or hand over the code, or the web hosting account itself, to you so you can complete the project elsewhere.

      2) If he’s not going to be reasonable, talk to the WEB HOST (not the domain people) where the site is currently hosted. See if they are sympathetic to your story. It might help if you showed them some credit card bills or cancelled checks to prove payment for the site, and also the development contract you probably signed.

      Assuming that doesn’t work, I’d go back to step 1 and try to reason with them.

      And if that doesn’t work, tell then you will resort to step 3. What is step 3?

      3) A social media blitz, where you tell the world of your horrible experience with that company. Write Yelp comments, YP.com comments, epinions.com comments, all about your bad experience. Put up new pages at Squidoo, HubPages, WetPaint, WordPress.com, blogger.com…you get the idea now, yes? And you are welcome to come back to my site to post links to those pages you put up.

      Now, in saying that, I do have one suggestion: Make sure your position is rock-solid. For example, if there is still an outstanding invoice due to be paid by you, that’s a legitimate reason to not give you your site. But if they’re just being jerks (and they would not be the first web designer to be a jerk), have at them. Don’t be slanderous–just tell the truth.

      I wish the news were better. I hope that helps.


      p.s. I am not a lawyer and do not and cannot give legal advice. Before doing anything in pursuit of reclaiming your website, consult an attorney.

  7. Hi mark,

    I’ve read your thoughtful comments on this site and you give me hope. Thank you.

    I have a bad website hostage situation. The site is 8 months late, which has cost me a lot of money and time. The site is also full of errors the webguy refuses to fix. I offered to pay him for what hes done so far if hell just give me the site, but i guess that made him angry and he’s now demanding payment in full before he’ll release the files or even respond to my emails. The contract also included 25 hours of consulting after completion and 6 months of hosting. He seems to think I should forget about that as well. He has been a nightmare to work with, ignoring emails, not responding and presenting unfinished work and then getting upset with the amount of fixes.

    I am afraid to pay him before getting the website. he seems vindictive. Plus, it needs a Lot of work. It’ll cost me another ton to get it working right seems unfair to have to pay him in full Any ideas?


    • Hello Franca.

      I feel your pain.

      Is the site you have listed here, InsideTroncones.com, the site you’re referring to?

      Do you have a development contract that describes both your rights and responsibilities? And his rights and responsibilities?



      One of the great advantages today is that we’ve got social media, and if you’ve got any presence at all online, you have the ability to tell lots of people about the experience you are having.

      So this is what *I* would do if I were in this situation.

      I’d write the guy a letter letting him know that you’ve got, for example, 1,500 friends on facebook, and a list of 2000 followers on twitter, and about 50 close friends who are in the web and related industries, and that you’ll be writing liberally about the experience you are having.

      Not only that, you’re going to post the story on your blog, which gets XXX unique visitors a month, that you are going to also post on TrafficAndConversion.com which gets YYY visitors a month, that you are going to post on the WarriorForum, that gets thousands of visitors a day, that you are going to contact the Better Business Bureau in his area, that you are going to find him on Epinions or Yelp or YP.com and rate him HONESTLY according to your experience of him.

      If I had found him on a site like RentaCoder, Elance or Scriptlance, all those sites have rating systems for their vendors. I would let him know I’ll review him honestly there as well. I would let him know it will be MY MISSION to make sure the world hears my story, and the truth about him.

      I think you get the idea.

      Just let him know you’ll be HONEST.


      You might be inclined to NOT do any of that if he

      1) Surrenders control of the domain name to you;
      2) Delivers to you a complete installable backup of the site, or give you access to the hosting account;
      3) Compensate you for your lost revenue and time required to deal with this issue by (for example) refunding you 50% of what you have paid him so far.

      If he refuses, I would do a couple of other things.

      First, I’d have an attorney write him a demand letter, demanding all of the above, or face the consequences of a legal battle. Include a date by which he must respond. Send him a second letter that next day if he doesn’t respond.

      Next, I’d discuss with the attorney the list of things I’ve written above, especially if you can DOCUMENT, via emails or other methods, the veracity of your claims.

      Next, I’d keep my promise, and let him know each and every time you kept your promise. (ie send him a link to the blogs you post comments on, a copy of the tweets you are sending out, etc).

      And finally (and perhaps you might do this sooner rather than later) I’d look for someone else to build your site. Might I suggest a little company here in West Hills, California?

      I hear the guy is kinda nice, and helpful, and makes his clients VERY happy.

      Good luck, Franca.

      Let me know how it goes.



  8. Wow. Thanks for the detailed response! You’ve helped immeasurably, already. At least I feel less powerless. Whatever happens, I’m either getting the site away from him or starting over, and I will definitely be contacting you.

    Promise not to get litigious or point the finger if I try your advice and it doesn’t work, or worse. Some of us actually do take responsibility! : )

    Hasta pronto,


  9. Hell! ~
    I’m not quite in line with all of these inquiries. I have built a new website, under a new domain name after being refused ownership of my business’s initial domain name (salonsovain.com) by the builder. The builder was in a relationship with my sister(business Partner) at the time of our opening and bullied her into complying with his demands to be “In Charge” of the website. Now I have an out of date website with my image, my information, and even a Fotolia Image I paid for being used by an unauthorized builder. WE never signed a contract or paid him for his “services” (the website sucks!)
    I asked him to take the whole page down, but he refused. I just want to re-route the domain name. It’s causing confusion and hogging the Google search space. I’m mortified by the appearance of it and want it taken down. What can I do?

    • Hello Mark,

      thank you for your information and insight.

      I’ve been dealing with khion.com whom I found on craigslist (wasn’t the smartest decision but was working within a small budget). Well of course the outcome was not good since I am on your website seeking advice. This developer as been making it as difficult as possible to transfer our domain back to my ownership. He has cut off any phone communication and does not reply to our emails. The domain is currently hosted with Hostgator and I have been inquiring with them but there is nothing they can do without a PIN verification from khion. We have met in person a both agreed to make our last payment and the domain will be released to us. We have this agreement in writing and signed. Since the cheque has cleared, Khion has not made the transfer. I have certainly lost a lot of time and business opportunities by not having a completed site. Please advise, anything will help.

      Many thanks,


  10. Mark:
    My host finally changed the domain and put it in my name so I am the Registrant. I find now that he needs to log into the domainspricedright.com website and go to my customer number and pin which I have given him, in order to move the domain into my account. I have had problems with my host in the past because they are so slow to rectify matters and I have requested this for a week now. Is there anything I can do to sidestep this?

  11. I’ve got a unique situation from the posts above… My husband and I each have our own businesses. For the past year and a half, we have shared a hosting package and posted several domains on it. He helped me update my website from Joomla to Dreamweaver, and has updated content occasionally. We have decided to divorce, and he is refusing to release my files until I pay him $8,500 for development of my website. We had no previous arrangements for me to pay him. The domain names are owned by me, and I’ve written all the content for them. I do have files for one of the sites, but I can’t upload them until the other files are taken down. The hosting company refuses to take them down. Is there anything I can do?

  12. Hello Mark,

    thank you for your information and insight.

    I’ve been dealing with khion.com whom I found on craigslist (wasn’t the smartest decision but was working within a small budget). Well of course the outcome was not good since I am on your website seeking advice. This developer as been making it as difficult as possible to transfer our domain back to my ownership. He has cut off any phone communication and does not reply to our emails. The domain is currently hosted with Hostgator and I have been inquiring with them but there is nothing they can do without a PIN verification from khion. We have met in person a both agreed to make our last payment and the domain will be released to us. We have this agreement in writing and signed. Since the cheque has cleared, Khion has not made the transfer. I have certainly lost a lot of time and business opportunities by not having a completed site. Please advise, anything will help.

    Many thanks,


  13. There might be a reason the designer is holding the site hostage. Like a client not paying the balance of their invoice. 🙂

  14. Hey Mark,
    I am having this trouble.
    I joined this organization a month back
    Chucklo international pvt.ltd.
    They offered me to create a website for me, i said yes and give them the money as i always wanted a website of my own.
    Now after the website is built and i learned some web developing i found out that when i searched my web domain details in @whois.net
    It says that my.


    Which i also know what this mean.

    Now my real query is that.
    I only have control over my website’s cPanel.
    And my wordpress admin panel.
    Which basicaly allows only me to update my we content.
    But how to make my registrar tranfer to me and give me full right of my website.

    And what can i do if they refused to transfer.

    Can i put a case in the court to get the full owner ship of my website.


    1) I don’t have any paper contract of web registering deal from my organization.
    2) I only have an id card with my name and details proving that i work there.
    3) I only have whois.net prinout to prove that the website is registerd under my name and address.

    So what can i do to get the full ownership.
    Please suggest an method in which considring that they refused to transfer it to me

    Can i put a case in court

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