Getting a suitable domain for a business website is slowly becoming an impossible task due to an ever-increasing number of domain squatting attacks. Also known as cybersquatting, this practice of domain squatting is a rising concern for businesses worldwide.
Already scoring a domain name is quite tricky due to several pre-registered .COM domain names. Domain squatters make this task even more difficult by grabbing domain names with the hopes of selling them for massive profits.
Many renowned companies and celebrities have faced domain squatting and have gone to court for it, such as:
- Microsoft went to court against squatter “Mike Rowe” who demanded a sum of $10,000 to release the domain “MikeRoweSoft.com.”
- Madonna fought a court battle through the World Intellectual Property Organization and won to control the site madonna.com.
However, despite being increasingly common, domain squatting lacks proper recognition. The defining lines of this cybercrime remain hazy, allowing this practice to fall under a grey area.
So what is domain squatting?
In a nutshell, domain squatting also referred to as cybersquatting, is the registration and use of a domain name to sell it at a more massive profit. In most cases, cybersquatters register a reputable brand’s domain name before the real company has had the chance to do so.
The cybersquatter will then sell that domain name to the legitimate company at a much higher cost and gain immense profits through the act. Since cybersquatters register domain names under bad faith, “registering a domain in bad faith” has evolved to become a legal term and is defined by:
- Registering a domain name to sell it to the competitor at higher profits
- Registering the domain name in an attempt to block the legitimate trademark from obtaining it.
- Registering a domain name to block clients from reaching that specific trademark and try to disrupt the trademark business.
Along with recognising domain squatting as an illegal practice, many initiatives have long since been put into place against it.
Legal Action against Domain Squatting
Since domain squatting has long been recognised as illegal, anyone who is abused by these squatters can take action against them. This is even possible in the UK, where there are no specific laws related to cybersquatting.
In the UK, anyone who falls victim to cybersquatting can take legal action using the Trade Mark Act of 1994 by claiming trademark infringement. Also, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is available to resolve cybersquatting issues.
This is a precedent in the UK for cybersquatting set by the British Telecommunications plc and the English Court of Appeals. This precedent is designed to rule in favour of legitimate companies in cases where it seems evident that the domain names were registered to exploit the “distinctiveness and reputation of the trademark.”
In 1999 the US took action against cybersquatting by putting up an Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). It was set up to provide trademark protection from cybersquatters.
Moreover, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) also executed a consultative study on trademark and domain name issues. This study culminated in forming the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), a structure that successfully protects brand owners’ rights.
The UDRP has a complaint requirement which should necessarily contain the following three elements:
- The domain name has been registered in “bad faith,” and the registrant has no rights or legitimate interest in it.
- The domain name of the accused is confusingly similar to the complaint’s brand trademark.
Successfully launched complaints to the UDRP can either elect to have the disputed domain name cancelled or transferred its control to the complaint holder.
Prevention against Domain Squatting
Dealing with domain squatters can be a messy job, and in some cases, companies might even face public reputational damage, as Microsoft did in its case against Mike Rowe. Therefore, prevention is much better than setting things straight once they go downhill. Following these tips might help prevent domain squatting:
1. Pre-register domain names:
Domain squatters often work by buying recently searched domain names, which they can sell later on at a profit. Therefore, as soon as you finalise your company’s name, it is best to come up with a proper domain name and finalise it.
2. Invest in domain ownership protection
Domain ownership protection is an initiative taking by various domain name providers that help owners retain their domain name registration regardless of transfer attempts and expiration.
3. Register brand trademark
Since there are legal laws to help registered trademarks against domain squatters, it is best to take up that initiative and register trademarks immediately.
4. Register possible domain name
Even if you have acquired a .com domain name, it is best to register multiple names if anyone decides to exploit you through any other names.
Domain squatting is a rising problem despite having several legal options against it. Since this can be particularly troublesome for businesses, it is best to remain vigilant and practice cyber resilience by recognising problems and following preventive measures.