Cybersquatting

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Cybersquatting, according to the United States federal law known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, is registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad-faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. The cybersquatter then offers to sell the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price.

The term is derived from "squatting", which is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use. Cybersquatting however, is a bit different in that the domain names that are being "squatted" are (sometimes but not always) being paid for through the registration process by the Cybersquatters. Cybersquatters usually ask for prices far greater than that at which they purchased it. Some cybersquatters put up derogatory remarks about the person or company the domain is meant to represent in an effort to encourage the subject to buy the domain from them. Others post paid links via Google and other paid advertising networks to the very (legitimate) site that the user likely wanted, thus monetizing their squatting. As with many controversial issues, some argue that the dividing line of cybersquatting is difficult to draw, or that the practice is consistent with a capitalistic and free market ethos.

Cybersquatting is one of the most loosely used terms related to domain name intellectual property law and is often incorrectly used to refer to the sale or purchase of generic domain names such as example.com.

Legal resolution
Domain name disputes involving alleged bad-faith registration are typically resolved using the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy (UDRP) process developed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Critics claim that the UDRP process favors large corporations and that their decisions often go beyond the rules and intent of the dispute resolution policy. A UDRP complaint may be initiated at UDRP proceeding with an approved dispute resolution service provider. A victim of cybersquatting may also file an InterNIC Registrar Problem Report regarding a cybersquatter posing as a registrar.

Court systems can also be used to sort out claims of cybersquatting, but jurisdiction is often a problem, as different courts have ruled that the proper location for a trial is that of the plaintiff, the defendant, or the location of the server through which the name is registered. Countries such as China and Russia do not view cybersquatting in the same way or degree that US law does. People often choose the UDRP (Uniform Dispute Resolution Process) created by ICANN because it is usually quicker and cheaper than going to court, but courts can and often do overrule UDRP decisions. In Virtual Works, Inc. v. Volkswagen of America, Inc. (a dispute over the domain vw.net), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals created a common law requirement that the cybersquatter exhibit a bad faith intent in order to confer liability. This means that domain names bearing close resemblance to trademarked names are not per se impermissible. Rather, the domain name must have been registered with the bad faith intent to later sell it to the trademark holder.

Some countries have specific laws against cybersquatting beyond the normal rules of trademark law. The United States, for example, has the U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) of 1999.

Under UDRP policy, successful complainants can have the names deleted or transferred to their ownership (which means paying regular renewal fees on all the names or risk them being registered by someone else). Under the ACPA (Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act) a cybersquatter can be held liable for actual damages or statutory damages in the amount of a maximum of $100,000 for each name found to be in violation.

There have been several instances of companies, individuals or governments trying to take generic domain names away from their owners by making false claims of trademark violation. Sometimes they are successful. This practice is called "reverse domain hijacking". For example, little known Heathrow Land Development in Florida attempted to use their narrow one-class trademark and the UDRP process to acquire heathrow.com.

Australia is another example - auDA requires anyone registering a .com.au Second Level Domain to have a valid entitlement for that domain - ie. a registered business name with an Australian Business Number (ABN) issued by the Australian Taxation Office. However, this has failed to protect Australia from such cybersquatting acts. Any Australian citizen over the age of 16 can obtain an ABN (which is free) and use it to register as few or as many domain names as they like.

Internationally, the United Nations copyright agency called WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has, since 1999, provided an arbitration system wherein a trademark holder can attempt to claim a squatted site. In 2006, there were 1823 complaints filed with WIPO, which was a 25% increase over 2005's rate. On average, 84% of claims are decided in the complaining party's favor ([1])

 

 

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