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Buying a grandfathered .EDU domain?

Someone approached to sell me a grandfathered .EDU name. I never thought .EDU domain can be traded so I started to research a little bit. Ain’t they owned only by educational institutions of United States?

Turns out .EDU names in existence as of October 29, 2001 were more freely registered and thus many non-educational entities such as individuals and businesses owned them. However, after the management of the .EDU name space were transferred to EDUCAUSE and thus new regulations were introduced on and from October 29, 2001, .EDU names can only be distributed to certified higher educational institutions operating in the United States and cannot be traded or exchanged whatsoever. But the .EDU names created before Oct.29, 2001 remained in the hands of their original registrant. That’s why they are called “grandfathered”. They are out of the current rules but they can still exist.

While you cannot acquire a new .EDU name now – unless you purchase a small local college for couple of millions – can you get a grandfathered .EDU from its previous owner?

The owner / registrant name of the .EDU name must remain unchanged for its lifetime – no matter if it’s a grandfathered .EDU or a .EDU created after Oct. 29, 2001. So is this all a scam or is it really possible to buy a grandfathered .EDU name?

The way to trade a grandfathered .EDU is probably to trade the owner entity. You are not buying the name, instead, you are buying the business entity that owns the .EDU name. I never personally bought such an entity to get any .EDU name so I’m not saying this way would work. From my research, this is definitely a possible way. Quite a few domain name brokers said they knew such sales existed or even engaged in one.

To make sure, I approached the staff at EDUCAUSE.edu and these are the 2 official replies I got:

EDU domains cannot be given, sold, or in any other way transferred to another institution. EDU domains –even those grandfathered – must remain registered to the original registrant.

— Kate, Member Services Representative

Nothing seriously against the idea of obtaining the owner entity to obtain the .edu name. However the second reply from a Senior Policy Director comes much more serious:

Names in the .edu domain are made available to registrants under conditions and policies specified by the U.S. Department of Commerce. In particular they are not "owned" by the registrant and therefore may not be sold or otherwise transferred. The contract included in your most recent message is thus in error in stating "…that this Business Entity is the sole beneficial owner of the domain name xxxxxx.edu, that said domain name is not encumbered in any manner…".

In your original e-mail you said: "Someone approached me to sell me a grandfathered .edu name." Such a sale would be invalid regardless of any attempt to embed that sale within another transaction. EDUCAUSE will not hesitate to disable any .edu name we find to have been sold or otherwise transferred in violation of policy.

— Steven, Senior Policy Director

If you are ever buying a grandfathered .edu name, better make sure to stay low and never let EDUCAUSE knows about the deal. 😉