Cybersquatting refers to any unauthorized use of internet domain names similar to trademarks, company names, personal names, or service marks. The term also refers to any unauthorized purchase or registration of the name in question when done with bad faith. Cybersquatting can occur in different ways, depending on the purchaser. In some situations, the purchaser buys a domain name with the sole intention of selling it to the company or individual at a much higher cost. Another popular method of cybersquatting includes the parking of a website with similar ads of the trademarked company.
For example, a company named Joe’s Bananas can be a victim of cybersquatting in the following ways. In the first example, Joe’s Bananas is created but fails to purchase the domain name. Bob sees the company domain for sale and decides to buy it at an average fee. When Joe’s Bananas attempt to acquire the domain, they discover Bob is the owner. Bob tries to sell the domain to the company for $6,000.
In the second example, Joe’s Bananas purchase the proper domain name when establishing its business. Bob decides to profit off Joe’s success and launches a very similar domain, ending in a .org suffix. Bob connects the domain to his Google ads account, creating a website promoting competitor products through ads. Anyone that mistypes Joe’s website is now brought to Bob’s domain. Bob profits off the unauthorized use of the name.
How Can I Protect my Business?
If you’re starting a business, the first thing you need to do is register your domain. Whenever possible, register any other website suffix (the .com or .org on a website). Many platforms allow a discounted rate for multiple domains, protecting your company name from cybersquatting. You’ll also want to use a social media name checker to confirm the availability of your business name on the platforms. Remember, cybersquatting is the deliberate use of a business name to extort or profit. It is not a social media page established before your business registration.
Is Cybersquatting Legal?
No. cybersquatting is not legal, with legislation passing to protect businesses from the practice. The Anticybersquatting Legislation encompasses the ACPA (Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act). This legislation can hold the unauthorized user liable for damages to the trademark owner, including financial restitution. Local state laws can also offer additional protection for business owners or individuals victimized by this act.
What to do if you’re a victim of cybersquatting
If you believe a website infringes on your trademark or business name, an investigation is the first step. Evaluate the website in question by clicking on the domain. Is the domain functional, or is it a parked domain?
A functional website
A website with a header, logo, and business information listed on the company website is likely not a cybersquatter. Assess whether the business is legitimate; do they have a phone number or email address posted? Is the blog current? If yes, there’s likely nothing you can do to have the site removed.
A functional website publishing advertisement or information related to competitive businesses is likely a case of squatting. These individuals will publish a domain mimicking your brand in hopes of attracting visitors and website traffic off of your company’s back.
A Parked Domain
These websites will typically bring visitors to a “domain for sale” page, directing users to purchase the site. These platforms may require close monitoring but aren’t necessarily a sign of cybersquatting.
Handling Cybersquatting Head-On
Many times, contacting the registered domain owner is the easiest method of resolution. Look up the domain owner through the WHOIS directory and reach out by email. Don’t make assumptions in the email; contact them to see what’s happening with the website in question. The owner may want to sell you the domain for a reasonable fee, which is an option for the fastest resolution.
If you’d like to fight cybersquatting, business owners have two options. The first would require a motion under the ACPA. The trademark owner must prove the website or domain was created in bad faith. This means you must show that the site was identical, substantially similar, or was done with the intent to profit off the company. The domain owner must show the purchase was in good faith, such as a similar registered business in another country.
Alternatively, you can pursue action with ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers). This process is less expensive and faster (you don’t need an attorney). Monetary damages are not available using this method. Like ACPA, the trademark owner must show the domain was in bad faith. If they win, the website domain will be transferred or cancelled upon request.