Busiess Week Article: Web Design Horrors: the most egregious of these involve your domain being “held hostage” by a developer who registered the domain in their own name rather than their client’s. As an ISP owner and domain reseller, I saw this too often, and we sometimes had to intervene to help “victims” recover their domains.
Traditionally, members of a “profession” (1) command a specialized body of knowledge, (2) are members of a self-regulating association or body, and (3) are bound by a strict code of ethics, often balancing fiduciary responsibilities. In this sense, there’s no such thing as a “professional” web developer. Nor are there “professional” tree pruners, plumbers, or copywriters. (On the other hand, there are fewer recognized “professions” than there should be.) That said, I’m going to have to grant that the word “professional” has changed in its meaning, so that this technical definition sadly applies only rarely.
If there were a recognized professional code of conduct for web designers though, I would have to think that registering a client’s domain name as their own would fall squarely outside the code of ethics, and either way is probably a breach of a fiduciary responsibility to the client.
Do a “whois” search on your domain (where you do this may depend on your domain extension). If you find your domain is registered this way, take immediate steps with your designer to have it transferred into your own name, even if the relationship is on good terms at present.