Commercial opportunities and ancillary frauds walk hand in hand and online business is not an exception to the foregoing. I believe, I need not to explain the readers about the available commercial opportunities on the internet. Everyone understands that internet can offer remarkable profits. However, some people were always smarter than us. The practice that is subsequently identified as cybersquatting was initiated when most of the businessmen could not speculate business opportunities on internet.
Let me make you clear with two situations. Suppose you are a big fan of American pop singer Madonna. You want to check out her recent activities and logged on Maddona.com thinking sensibly that this might be her website. Surprisingly, you discovered that instead of music videos this site is full of adult and pornographic contents!
Again suppose Mr. Elahi is a busy lawyer. He always takes help of Alexa (a smart speaker with a voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service) for silly internet searches. He has asked Alexa to go to Microsoft.com but Alexa took him to MikeRowesoft.com which is a web designing business platform. He again instructed slowly and clearly but as these two websites sound too similar, Alexa did the same mistake! Do you really think it’s a mistake?
You may be surprised to hear that these two examples are real situations. Madonna.com was purchased by an adult entertainment site businessman who was using Madonna’s name & fame in making profit by getting accidental visitors tohis pornographic website. Similarly, MikeRowesoft.com was registered by a Canadian teenage named Mike Rowe who was claiming that the website contains his name (MikeRowe) and he thought it would be fun if he adds the word “soft” at its end. However, he claimed $10,000 to Microsoft for bringing down this website.
Apart from these two cases, there are thousands of instances where well-known names and famous trademarks have been registered by the wrong person with bad faith either for ransom money or for making traffic generated profits that he is not entitled to. In 2000, an Arsenal fan purchased the domain “manchesterunitedfc.com” and advertised it for sell at $100,000 saying “As an Arsenal fan there is a certain amount of revenge in it”!The famous British public service broadcaster “BBC” had to fight to get back its right to the URL “bbcnews.com” after it was cybersquatted. The famous online auction and shopping site eBay discovered more than 1000 similar or confusing domain names to its address and recovered 1,153 domain names by initiating legal action against the cybersquatted domains. eBay’s legal fight is still considered as one of the largest WIPO cybersquatting disputes. The amount of cybersquatting cases is higher than you can imagine and every year the number is climbing upwards. In 2017, the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center received 3,074 domain name dispute cases under the “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP)” while in 2018, the number increased to 3,447.
The term squatting denotes unlawfully occupying a property without permission. Nowadays, the term is widely used to refer domain name disputes. Cybersquatting is a situation when your trademark or business name is used by another person by registering a domain name same or similar or confusingly similar to your trademark or business name.
The offence of cybersquatting has been taken seriously by the USA, and thus, it has enacted the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act(ACPA), 1999 where it defines cybersquatting as “registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else”. However, the common law steam is yet to define cybersquatting by legislation, rather it is relying on an international arbitration system created by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which has adopted the “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDNDRP)” for resolving domain name disputes.
Can you claim a squatted domain back? Yes, you can! If you are from Bangladesh or any common law country, the best advice for you is to bring an action under the ICANN complaint procedure. However, a very recent case under the ICANN namely Quality Nonsense Limited v. Jerry Sandusky (Claim No. FA1604001668646) confirms that in order to get a domain name cancelled or transferred, a complainant must prove three elements i.e. (a) the domain name has to be identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark; (b) respondent has no rights or legitimate interests on the domain name; and (c) the domain name have been registered and are being used in bad faith. If you believe that you can satisfy these three conditions, you should go for arbitration. Otherwise, if it makes sense, you should pay the squatter!
Nevertheless, it is always better preventing domain disputes than recovering domains. If you are planning to thrive online business and don’t have a trademark registered on your brand, you should get one immediately. Before you are being hunted by domain squatters and spending substantial amount of money on them, depending on your capacity and business type, you may consider any or more than one of the following advises: (a) before you start your business you may register your desired domain name; (b) you may consider buying similar or confusing domain names as well as necessary multiple extensions; (c) some business entities provide domain ownership protection service, you may try such service; (d) while developing your website, if you are taking help of any other person or website development firm, make sure that all the legal records are registered in your name; (e) never miss a domain renewal deadline; (f) most importantly, you have to create your legal right on the name. Therefore, you should always consider registering trademark on your desired domain name.
While it comes to online businesses, marketing or services, importance of a secured domain name is earthshaking. Throughout the web network your business is identified by your domain name. As domain names are registered internationally and cybersquatters are technologically smarter than most of us, there is always good chance of being victim of cybersquatting if you keep your business name unprotected. Your competitor may register your domain to disrupt competition, or your well-known trademark may be used for making profit by selling counterfeited products or committing fraud, or someone may misuse your name and fame for taking advantages of your hard work.
Being aware of cybersquatting is not an option for you, rather to sustain in global business, you must make sure that your strategies are well protecting your intellectual property rights.