Written by: Craig Edmonds | October 9, 2009
Cybersquatting affects millions of businesses and individuals every year costing unaccountable financial losses and more importantly losses in terms of online reputation.
Nearly all the people I speak to have never really thought much about cybersquatting and its consequences as they have never experienced it, but you only have to experience it once to understand what a big problem it really is and the effect it has.
The dictionary definition of cybersquatting is:
The registration of a well-known brand or company name as an Internet domain name in the hope of selling it at a later date
With the current advent and popularity of social media and personal web sites however, I believe you can add to that definition the following:
The registration of someone’s personal name in the form of an Internet domain in order to cause that person grief and angst or for the purpose of blackmailing for financial gain or otherwise
Being “Googled” – Cybersquatter Interference
You may or may not have heard the term “being Googled”. I am hearing this term being bandied about more and more often on TV shows and around the Internet where someone will say “we Googled him” or “I Googled you” or “just Google them for their info”.
Because the internet is rapidly replacing the phone book and information libraries, more and more information about ourselves and our companies is appearing on the internet in the public domain, being “Googled” is becoming the norm for companies, employers or clients wanting to find out more information about you.
Anyone can just open google and type your name in the search box and when they do more than likely, if a cybersquatter is using your domain then its possible that those searchers will land on a squatted site which can contain any type of information out of your control.
Cybersquatters are essentially causing interference in your being googled because if they have registered your domain name, any person typing your name, 9 times out of 10 will jump to the squatted site, not your own.
Effects of Cybersquatting and Why they do it.
Its difficult almost impossible to put a price on what damage a cybersquatter can do but here is a short list of possible effects a cybersquatter can have on your business or personal profile:
- can post negative information about you, therefore reducing your reputation
- can redirect visitors/customers looking for your product, to their own product
- can hold you to ransom by owning the domain attempting to extort money
- can profit from the popularity of your name by selling it on
There are many other examples on the internet of cybersquatters registering domain names of famous celebrities, companies and individuals in order to attempt to profit.
Reasons for Cybersquatting – why?
The reason for cybersquatting can be many but for the most part cybersquatters do it to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or business or unlawfully profit off someone.
Here are two of the many examples of cybersquatting and the possible reason they cybersquat.
- you may have had a fallout with a disgruntled employee or partner and they have gone off and registered your domain name (which you may have unwittingly allow to expire) behind your back and have attempted to extort thousands of euros or dollars from you to give it back (see craigedmonds.co.uk)
- you may have a company whose name is similar just by making a typo. For example the following names when typing are very similar and people can very often confuse the two when typing them into their browser.
take note of the following typo example.
Example 1 is the real company web site
Example 2 “was” the cybersquatted web site (since resolved I believe)
The result is of course any one typing in the wrong domain thinking they are typing the right one, called a typo, would have landed on the cybersquatters web site in example 2, the result being that the real company in example 1 loses out on possible revenue.
But is Cybersquatting not Illegal?
Please bear in mind, I am not a lawyer but some will say its illegal but the facts I have discovered is that its not actually a crime to cybersquat, not in the criminal sense anyway. Logic says that yes its an illegal act and should be punishable by criminal court but cybersquatting is still a very grey area and its a relatively new phenomenon, less than 15 years old, so its a very tricky area. Laws differ from country to country and the reach of domains is global not local.
However, if you feel someone has unlawfully cybersquatted your domain and its a top level domain such as a .com, .net, .org etc you can take your case to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, WIPO for short, but you have to prove a solid case and its not cheap to do.
The prices start at around $5,000 and you are not guaranteed to win and when you do, all you get is the domain name transferred to you and the cybersqautter just walks away without even getting their knuckles rapped or paying a penny in costs If you lose the case, then the cybersquatter walks off laughing and you are out of pocket for 5 large ones.
Depending on which country you are based, it “may” be possible to sue the cybersquatter for damages, but suing for lost income is very difficult to prove which is why any lawyer will just tell you to forget it and move on especially if its a flaky case.
In all cases, approach a lawyer who specialises in domain law, don’t approach your conveyancing lawyer or family lawyer, they wont know a thing about it or they will give you incorrect advice, the same way you would not go to a Brain Surgeon to ask about Heart Surgery.
So How Can I Prevent Cybersquatters?
You need to be vigilant and spend a small amount of money to protect your domain interests.
Here are some pointers:
1. Register Your Own Personal Name as a .com Domain.
2. Register the other main TLD versions such as .net, .co.uk, .name, .org, .info
3. Register any possible typos of the domain in the .com versions
4. If you are a company, register all TLD’s and any misspellings
5. If the domains are important, register them a few years in advance
6. Make sure the domains are set to auto renew so they dont accidentally expire
Domains can cost as low as $7.95 per year so for an individual to register the main domain extensions, around 5 domains, the annual cost for a small personal portfolio can be more or less $40.00 per year.
Companies can get away by just registering the main 5 but as mentioned they should also be registering any variations of extensions they feel they can afford. An average portfolio for a small, medium sized company would be appx $250 per year which in the scheme of things is no large amount.
Unless you have real deep pockets you cannot register all the domain extensions as there are hundreds of top level domains and country level domains, but if you use common sense you can protect your company or yourself from the evil cybersquatters out there just waiting to take advantage of your good name.