Introduction and History
Cybersquatting is relatively a new term that gained momentum with the boom of Internet market for registered domains. Cybersquatting means an individual or a group of individuals who buy and register the names of well-known companies and organizations as domain names later to sell it to those companies at a significantly higher price.
It is considered illegal and there are laws in place to prevent it and punish those responsible. It all started when companies realized that the internet was to be the next big marketing medium for increasing the number of customers and income. Some smart people thought ahead of these companies so they bought the domain names of these well-registered trademarks. These companies then later had to pay large sums of money to buy back the domain names.
Many big brands were targeted like Panasonic, Avon and Hertz. The companies had to pay the cyber-squatters large amounts of money and in some cases important domains were allowed to accidentally expire only to be quick snatched up by cyber-squatting bots.
As more and more companies got well-acquainted with the internet as a tool for advertisement and have taken a strategic purchase of their domain names, cyber-squatting has decreased slightly; also for the fact that now there are laws that are there to protect the companies from cyber-squatting.
Fighting and Preventing Cybersquatting
To prevent and fight cyber-squatting you must know if someone has already taken a key domain name of your business. There are some simple steps to check if you are a victim of this online crime. Firstly, search for a domain name that is affiliated with your company. In most cases it is an acronym or the name of your business that you will be using to create the domain name.
If the domain name you typed in results in “server not found” or “domain name is for sale” or “ site under construction”, it is a strong indication that the domain name you want is being used by a cyber-squatter. But this may not entirely be the case; an individual may have secured the domain name for launching his/her own website later without malicious intent, especially if your company name is less than unique.
Secondly, if the domain name takes you to a website that is filled with ads related to the products and/or services your business offers, this means that you are a victim of cybersquatting and the individual is creating a false image of your business and confusing your customers.
The third possible scenario is that the domain name you entered may take you to a website that is fully operational but it has no relation to the products and/or services that your business is offering. This simply means someone else has taken the domain name for his/her business before you. Therefore, before assuming that you are a victim of cyber-squatting, you should first try and contact the owner of the domain name by using the following website www.whois.net.
This website will let you have an idea of how genuinely a domain name that is already in use depicts its purpose. It may very well point you to the individual who is looking to sell the domain name for a high price. Many people will choose to simply pay the domain asking price since filing a lawsuit is almost always more expensive. However, many of these domain selling services must comply with the release of the domain name if you hold a trademark covering the registered domain name. If the whois information shows you that the site was registered after you had a live trademark application, then you should not have to buy the domain name but can go through the process of reclaiming it.
Anti-Cybersquatting Laws and Organizations
If you feel that you may be better served by filing a lawsuit against a cyber-squatter, then having knowledge about these laws and organizations should probably be your first step in doing so.
ACPA (Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act)
This Federal law was passed in November 1999. Under this act, it is required by the plaintiff to prove that the offender had deliberately acquired a domain name in bad faith so that they may profit from it by selling it at a higher price or for the intention of defaming and damaging the reputation of a company/business.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)
This organization came into existence in September 1998. Its sole purpose was to take over the internet related responsibilities that were being performed under US government at that time. This organization is also responsible for allotting domain names and IP addresses and also helps to resolve domain name disputes that may arise due to cybersquatting.
This policy is being used by ICANN in resolving domain name disputes. It must be followed by all domain name registars. It works the same way as ACPA but the key difference here is that before the dispute is resolved by deleting, amending, or transferring of the domain name, both parties must have an agreement or consent signed. Because of this consent and agreement, the dispute resolution is fast and streamlined with fewer hiccups than in ACPA. You can see the key differences between ACPA and UDRP in the figure on the right..
Cyber-squatting is a serious issue that we are still facing today. There is only one ideal way to prevent cyber-squatting and that is to act fast and strategically for those domain names you may wish to own in the future. From the moment you plan and start your business you should reserve a domain name for yourself so that when you are satisfied and think of going big you can launch later without a need to cough up thousands of dollars for your businesses domain. It’s also key to seek a trademark early on in order to protect your domain name in the long run. In most of the cases, it will save you the trouble of having to deal with legal and procedural issues that will surely arise when you intend on filing a lawsuit.