What is cybersquatting, and how can you protect your business from it? Domain squatting as known as cybersquatting is when someone aims to profit from your trademark or goodwill by selling your domain name back to you for an inflated price. It’s understandable if this criminal activity is new to you, as domain name disputes have been quite a rare occurrence until the proliferation of digital platforms. Cybersquatting was something that shook the world of trademark law through digital platforms, so it’s an activity that is now prevalent.
Trademark laws which protect against infringement have been used for tens or even hundreds of years, constantly developed and repurposed, so it’s a practice of law that’s profitable. The core driver of trademark infringement is to use a trademark name or brand to influence commercial transactions without authorisation.
The relatively quick explosion of digital platforms and online activity has made trademark management a big challenge for companies. Cybersquatters have beaten them to it, and they have created a business out of purposefully purchasing trademarked domains, including slightly misspelt domains that attract a lot of visitor traffic.
The sole intention of holding domains that rightfully belong to another entity is to sell them. The most profitable targets for cybersquatters are the domains of big brands and corporations.
Once a cybersquatter purchases a domain, they own it. Some copyright holders may not remember to re-register their domain names and suddenly find their domain name held as hostage by cybersquatters. It has taken some time for the government to catch up change legislation to include cybersquatting with trademark infringement.
ICAAN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number, and without its DNS management, there wouldn’t be a global internet. ICAAN manage the UNDRP process, and with an increase in complaints, they have revised their systems to manage the process of assigning domain names with more checkpoints for verification.
Cybersquatting like other cybercrime is a ‘cat and mouse’ game, and it’s a gray area, i.e. not always easy to prove ill intent which is why it is vital to do all you can to protect your business and its brand from threats. It’s a global phenomenon, and each country has its own way of managing the disputes process.
As cybersquatting in Australia the grows the country has the .au Domain Administration Ltd or auDA, to provide you with legal advice as well as consultation. The .au Dispute Resolution Policy is a process that ensures that an independent trustworthy arbitrator like the World Intellectual Property Organization investigates and handles your complaint.
Registering your Trademark
The first thing you should do is make sure that you have a registered trademark; otherwise, it is a lot tougher to prove ill-intent by cybersquatters infringing any trademark laws. Millions of domains are registered every year, yet the number of official trademarks registered in the government registry is considerably lower, and this is why cybersquatters are active.
Bulk Domain Registrations
Register every domain name of any importance including those with slight misspellings or variations on the brand name. While you may be purchasing dozens of domain names, it’s still much cheaper than negotiating with a cybersquatter.
If your brand is popular or famous, expect that there are a lot of cybersquatters out there waiting for you to contact them to buy the domain name they stole from you. The main problem is that you can’t go chasing after every single one; it can become quite an exhausting battle and a costly one, too. Try to categorise stolen domain names according to their damage. Only pursue the most problematic ones that could significantly harm your brand’s reputation.
By going down the litigation route, your case would fall under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act or the Trademark Act. Once an infringement is proven, the site can be taken down and often on the same day. These lawsuits are not easy nor cheap, but you’re sending a message to cybersquatter that you’re not an easy target. There is another option too through uniform domain name dispute resolution.
Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution
This resolution approach is cheaper than pursuing a legal battle with a cybersquatter. All you have to do is file a complaint with dispute-resolution providers like the World Intellectual Property Organization or the National Arbitration Forum. Once you manage to argue that the perpetrator has control over or is using your domain in bad faith, the site will get taken down. Know that this can be a lengthy process that on average, takes about 2 months.
Misspellings and typos aren’t the only things you should worry about. The most common extensions or versions of your domain also matter. Extensions like .com, .org, .net, and .biz are all significant extensions that you want to make sure you don’t allow anyone else to use by purchasing them. Notice that sometimes when your business is international, you may need to use extensions, so make sure you buy the country extension in which you operate in. No need to go overboard; just get the most important and popular ones.
Competitors & Unhappy Customers
Disgruntled competitors or customers with an axe to grind may seek revenge and buy domains that call attention to your brand negatively, e.g. your domain name and a word added on like ‘fake’. This action doesn’t infringe on copyrights as its viewed to be a form of free speech from a legal perspective. You can not protect against this activity, rather seek remedy when it occurs to get the site taken down.
Cybersquatting is here to stay as its a profitable criminal activity that’s hard to completely prevent from happening due to a lack of registered trademarks to protect business digital assets like domain names. Being aware of developments of the activity and taking steps to secure the domains associated with your trademarks, including misspelt domains is, within your control and a way to make it much harder for cybersquatters. Get your IT security team to include more domain security steps as part of their overall brief to improve security and ensure your business a much harder target.