Advice - General / Tracking down pirates / Locating website owners

There are two parts to the question, "who owns that website?" - the owner of the name of the site, and the owner of the machine on which the site lives. These may or may not be the same person or organisation. In turn, they may or may not be the same as the organisation that claims ownership of the content - including ripping-off your work. It's the last one you want to negotiate with, but having the other details recorded helps in that process, because it helps you take action against the pirate if they don't pay.

Who owns the website name?

Open up a universal lookup service - see link below (they come and go, and we do our best to update that). Copy and paste the name of the website into its search box. It should come back with details of the owner of the name, usually with email and phone contacts. For example, to find out who owns http://www.example.com paste in just

example.com
(You drop the "www." because one name registration covers www.example.com for their website as well as mail.example.com for their email servers, and so on.)

If this doesn't work, visit the regional name registration databases directly: again, see below.

Sometimes people and smaller organisations register names through services that don't reveal their contact details to any of the public databases. We find that a visit to the "WhoIs" lookup provided by one of these services - www.godaddy.com (see live link below) - sometimes produces results when other searches fail.

The results often list two organisations: first that which owns the name, and then that through which the name was registered. Sometimes the second is the same as the organisation that owns the "host" computer - but best to check..

Who owns the website host - the machine it lives on?

Open up the "terminal window" or "command prompt" program on your computer. (Search for these phrases in your operating system if you can't find it in the menus. On a Windows computer you can also hit the "Start" button, click "Run", then type command into the box that appears.)

  • Note that a terminal window (or command prompt) is a place where you type instructions or commands to your computer. Clicking inside it with the mouse is not recommended. At best, it will have no effect on anything.

If you're interested in www.example.com then in the terminal window that appears type

ping www.example.com
(Here you do include the "www.") You will see:
Pinging www.example.com [208.77.188.166] with 32 bytes of data:

The number 208.77.188.166 is the actual internet address (the "Internet Protocol number" or "IP number") of the computer that stores the files that make up the website www.example.com

Some jargon translation may help: it is the "Domain Name System" (DNS) that translates a "domain name" such as "example.com" into an "IP number". In effect, the DNS asks around the internet: "anyone know where 'www.example.com' lives?" until something - in last resort one of the databases listed above - returns the IP number.

Now go back to www.allwhois.com and in the search box type the IP number you got for the website you're interested in.

With any luck, it'll tell you who owns that computer, in the same format as the name registration information. If not, try the other options given under "Who owns the domain name?" .

Who owns that newspaper or magazine, though?

Sometimes, it is neither the website name owner nor the website host owner who you first want to approach for payment.

If your work has been ripped off by What Fridge? magazine, you want to approach the publisher first. And some newspapers and magazines are cagey about giving out contact details, except for a form that sends email to ignore-this@what-fridge.co.uk

They are, however, keen for potential advertisers to get in touch reliably and immediately. So that's where you look on their website for proper contact details. This is often where you find out who owns the publication - for example if they give emails in the form what-fridge-ads@moloch-media.co.uk

You can also check whether the publication is listed on The Owners database - see link below - which has links to the corporate (rather than the publicity) websites of many media owners.

More advice and links...
* www.whois-search.com/ universal lookup service
* www.ripe.net name registry for Europe
* www.AfriNIC.net name registry for Africa
* www.APnic.net name registry for Asia-Pacific
* www.arin.net name registry for North America
* www.LACNIC.net name registry for Latin America
* www.InterNIC.net non-national name registry
* www.godaddy.com semi-anonymous name registration
* The Owners database of what we know about them
[www.londonfreelance.org]
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. Comments to ffg@londonfreelance.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.