Cybersquatting: What It Is and How to Protect Your Brand From It
Here at Dynadot we've been doing lots of squats recently (the workout kind), and now we want to talk about a different kind of squatting - cybersquatting. Cybersquatting (or domain squatting) is when someone uses a domain name that is similar to a trademark to make it unavailable (think squatters in an abandoned building), with intent of making money off of the domain down the road. Check out what you should do if you find your domain being cybersquatted, and how you can avoid it in the first place.
What is Cybersquatting?
ICANNWiki defines cybersquatting as:
Cybersquatting is the action of attempting to profit by purchasing domain names made of marketable and trademark related terms, and later reselling or licensing those names back to the companies that developed the trademark.
That is, cybersquatters undertake the deliberate, abusive registration of domain names in violation of the rights of trademark owners. Abusive registration of a domain names is defined by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) as:
- Registration of a domain name which is identical or misleadingly similar to a trademark.
- A registration which the registrant has no rights to, or legitimate interests in, with respect to the domain name.
- Wherein the domain name has been registered and is used in bad faith.
Cybersquatting and Your Brand
So you've done all you had to in order to get your domain for your new company, you've registered your trademark, and you ask your crazy Aunt Linda to Google your new business. Uh oh! All she can find is a blank page on a parked domain - not your site. What's going on with that? Cybersquatting it is! This means that customers won't find your website either, which means less business, which is a problem. If the owner of your domain has already created a website you may be in a pickle, however if they have not done so the damage is not too bad. Here's what you can do to prevent and recover from cybersquatting:
Registering the Right Domain(s)
First and foremost, your domain should be registered as soon as you define your brand name. By securing it early, you prevent the brand name getting out to cybersquatters before you get to your domain. In order to further prevent cybersquatting, you could also buy domains similar to yours, those being either spelling mistakes or the same domain on different relative top level domains (TLDs), i.e. .COM to your .NET or .ORG to your .COM. Following these steps greatly diminishes the chances of your domain being a victim of cybersquatting, but still unfortunately cannot guarantee it, so let's take a look at what to do if your domain does in fact fall into cybersquatter real estate.
Step 1: Identify the Registrant
When a domain is registered, the Whois information is permanently linked (although potentially private) to the registrant, and by finding the Whois of the site you may get some information on the culprit (an address, phone number, email, etc.). Although the information may be false, this is still the first step to eliminate cybersquatters as it can connect you to them. If the Whois is protected by privacy you can contact the registrar and then you may be able to contact the owner of the cybersquatted domain via the registrar's customer service. Once you are able to connect, you may find the registrant acted without intent and simply made a mistake. If this is not the case, you can then begin to discuss a solution, be it buying the domain back from the registrant or taking legal action against them.
ICANN's Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has a simple, fast, and cheap way to solve these disputes in the form of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure (UDRP). With this form of litigation, you can easily address and adjudicate disputes concerning the use of a domain in bad faith. The complaint can be filed against any registrant across the globe and cases are mostly served within 45 days. ICANN judges the situation based on the context under which the domain name was registered. Should you decide not to use ICANN's solution, you may also opt to seek legal prosecution of the registrant, however this involves much more time, money, and is a more complicated solution to your problem.
Clearly, cybersquatting can be a costly happening, and therefore you should do everything possible to register and secure your domain and brand name as soon as you can in order to prevent the problem before it happens. On the off chance that it does, thanks to ICANN and WIPO there are great options for solving your problem once it occurs. End of story: prevent it if you can, and if it does happen to you, take action quickly and carefully in order to eliminate the pesky issue once and for all.
Image courtesy of Energize.co.nz
Post by Samantha Banks