Sneaky and Sneakier: An Introduction to Cybersquatting and Reverse-Cybersquatting

According to Wikipedia, cybersquatting 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.”  This practice is not only greedy—it’s illegal.  For example, if you notice that ColdplayMusicSale.com is available, you can’t register it and then start buying their albums in bulk and then selling them for a profit out of your garage.   You also can’t register that domain and then post libelous material in an effort to get Chris Martin to buy the website from you in order to shut you up.  You also can’t purchase Coldplay.in (.in is the TLD for India) if you notice it is available and then try to sell it to Chris Martin.  Don’t you love someone telling you a list of things you can’t do? But seriously, engaging in any attempt to profit off someone’s trademark gives the owner of the trademark every right to sue you.

For example, in 2001 a court forced Michaels Doughney to surrender his website Peta.com—which he had christened People Eating Tasty Animals and which had links to purchase meats, leather, and hunting equipment—to Peta.org.

Then there’s the even shadier tactic known as reverse-cybersquatting.  This happens when a company—or an individual with deep pockets—uses their money and lawyers to bully people who own domains similar to their trademark into handing them over by accusing the owners of cybersquatting.   Reverse-cybersquatters know that domain owners can’t always afford to fight the court battle to prove that they are not operating their domain in bad faith and should rightfully be able to keep it.  In some extreme cases, domain owners were bullied into handing over websites they had purchased and owned since before the trademark they were said to be infringing upon was even registered!

Thankfully, however, the little guys can prevail in the face of a bully.  For example, there was the recent case of Ron Paul vs. Martha Roberts over the domain RonPaul.com, which Mrs. Roberts owned. Though Ron Paul accused her of cybersquatting, the court ruled that Mrs. Roberts was not using the site maliciously or in bad faith and that Mr. Paul was harassing her in an attempt to acquire the domain name.

Well, there you have it.  What’s the moral of the story?  The internet is a battleground of people all trying to score a point.  But I’m sure you knew that already.

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