Domain squatting, otherwise known as cybersquatting, occurs when a person buys, registers, traffics, or otherwise uses a domain name that is confusingly similar to a personal name or trademark. Cybersquatters will often ‘ransom’ the domain and only sell it back to the rightful owner at a largely inflated price. This practice of domain squatting is unfortunately quite a common online occurrence.
However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of cybersquatting.
The first step you need to take to protect yourself from domain squatting is to register a trademark. You want to ensure that your trademark is listed in the government registry.
Under trademark law, the first person to use a trademark in commerce is considered the owner. So, if you used the name to market your products or services and register it, you can have a legal right to the name. Without the trademark, you have no legal claim to the name in the first place.
You should ensure that the ownership information that is registered to your domain name is yours. If you allow someone else like your IT staff to register it in his or her name, it might make it easier for them to administrate it. However, if that employee leaves on bad terms, it would be harder for you to claim ownership, because it is technically under their name and control.
For a business domain, it is advisable to have at least two names on the registration so that both parties are notified of any changes.
Also, don't let your domain expire. It is much easier to protect yourself when your domain is current and up-to-date.
Another way to protect your company is to register common variations of your domain before someone else does. You may want to spend a bit more money to register variations of your name.
Typosquatting is a form of cybersquatting, so be sure to register any known common mistypes or misspellings of your domain name. For example, register, lawcounsel.com and lawcouncil.com. The only reason a third-party would go out and register variations of your domain is if they think that they can benefit from the traffic it would generate.
Also, if your domain is made of more than one word, consider registering it with hyphens, for example, shoestrings.com and shoe-strings.com. Also, consider registering the singular and plural versions of your domain, such as ‘car.com’ and ‘cars.com’.
You can utilise domain forwarding to pick up any visitors to these misspelt or alternative domains to your actual website.
In addition to registering common mistypes, consider registering all of the common versions of your domain, such as .nz, ,kiwi, .com, .net, and .biz. You might also consider registering .org and .info. If you are doing business outside of the country, you will definitely want country extensions, such as .uk. But, don't get too distracted by all of these extensions.. There are many that won’t be applicable to your business, or that are very uncommon in your industry. For instance, if you are not a nonprofit organization you shouldn't get a .org.
If you find out that someone is cybersquatting or infringing on your trademark, you can take steps to prevent them from doing so. Start by finding out who owns the domain. You can find this out through running a WHOIS search. This would usually give you an email address for the site administrator.
Simply notifying the other party that you have a registered trademark over the domain name and that you’d like it taken down or transferred for a small price might be all that is needed. However, if the site administrator refuses to corporate, you have three options:
Option 1: Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS)
If your domain name uses a new generic top-level domain, such as .mobile or .shop, then URS is the easiest claim for you as a trademark owner to make. All you need to do is make a claim to a registry and if the website is a very clear trademark infringement, it will go through arbitration, after which it may be taken down for the remainder of the registration period. Arbitration is cheaper than going to court, but it could take months to settle.
Option 2: Unique Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP)
Also administered by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a UDRP claim is more intensive and can have greater rewards. An ICANN-approved Dispute Resolution Service Provider (DRSP) will evaluate whether your domain name was registered in good or bad faith and to what degree your website infringes on a trademark. If the DRSP rules in your favor, the domain will be cancelled or transferred to you.
Option 3: Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA)
The ACPA is an American law, but many other countries have similar laws that you can rely on. If you take a cybersquatter to court and you win, you may get the domain name you want, and also win money for damages from the cybersquatter.
Going to court is an expensive option. It is often cheaper to buy the name back than to go to court. In a situation where someone owns the domain name you want, they will set a selling price that is cheaper than legal fees.
Your domain name is a valuable asset for your business and any infringement on your trademarked name can reduce the value of that asset. This is why it is important to take matters that relate to your trademark seriously.
The courts have shown willingness to rule in favour of companies that have their trademark infringed on by cybersquatters. However, where someone is using your trademarked name for a non-commercial motive, it may be classed as free expression and there is nothing you can do in such a situation, except make an offer to buy.
3 Mar 2017 / Aliesha Ellington
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