Cybersquatting is the act of registering, using and potentially profiting from selling domain names that are identical to a name that has a registered trademark or is similar enough in some way so that it may be confusing to an online viewer. Much like other types of speculation, there are some who seek to profit from registering domain names that others may wish to own, or wish didn’t exist at all.
As with most business activities, there are both positive and ethical practices of cybersquatting and negative and troublesome practices of cybersquatting that have caused legislation to be enacted. Many of the negative practices of cybersquatting are addressed in The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). This legislation was intended to protect against those “with a bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of another’s trademark, registers, traffics in, or uses a domain name that is identical to, or confusingly similar to, a distinctive mark, or dilutive of a famous mark, without regard to the goods or services of the parties.” 1
Registering a domain name that is not a name with a registered trademark but one that the domain owner hopes will either be a combination of words that someone might want in the future or one that will someday have a purpose.
For instance, some internet savvy parents have claimed domain names for their children in anticipation of reserving those domain names for future use. At some point, someone else with the same name might very much like to have that domain. It would be perfectly ethical for the original domain owner to “sell” the name to the new party.
Someone who registers a domain in “bad faith” or having no legitimate interest (other than profiting from someone who does have an interest in that domain name). Another example of bad faith might be when someone registers a domain name that is similar to a name that has a trademark in hopes of deceiving consumers and profiting from that deception.
Michelle Fabio, Esq gives an example in her article, “What to Do If You’re the Victim of Cybersquatting” where Tucker Carlson registered the domain KeithOlberman.com (with only one “n”) and had content that poked fun at Keith Olbermann. “The fact that the site included information directly about Olbermann would suggest that this is likely an instance of cybersquatting.”2
There are also International guidelines called the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy adopted and implemented by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Cases who use these guidelines are mediated. ICANN Is a non-profit who coordinates the unique identifiers that pertain to all websites as well as many other things to keep the internet secure and able to perform on a global level.
In the current political races, there have been a lot of news articles about cybersquatting, including registering a domain name of a competitor, deception with domain names and redirects.
In Ben Philpott’s article, Cybersquatting in the 2016 Presidential Race, Philpott says that CruzFiorina.com was already registered so the Cruz campaign registered CruzCarly.com. Was that because the last name combination was already taken? or because Fiorina was too hard to spell?
Andrew McGill’s article, How JebBush.com Could Have Been Saved From DonaldJTrump.com, gives two examples, JebBush.com – redirected to Donald Trump and @realDonaldTrump (donaldttrump.com) redirects to @JebBush. McGill goes on to report about a cybersecurity engineer who wrote a program to help find instances of cybersquatting. More specifically, the program can detect typos of candidate’s names which is a practice called “typoquatting.” “Typosquatting” is the act of changing the spelling of a domain name to make it appear to be something it isn’t. The program is up on GitHub. It has a copyright notice, but also grants permission, free of charge, use, copy, modify, publish, distribute, sublicense and or sell. Other examples include bencarson2016.net – Planned Parenthood and hillaryclinton.net – photos of the Clintons with Trump.
Cybersquatting is an important part of digital citizenship for a couple of reasons.
- Being aware that domain names, especially on a global level, can be even more controversial than registered trademarks due to the ubiquity nature of the Internet and the global reach that one’s domain has.
- Understanding that contents on a domain might not be the “official” content that you were expecting. If you do a web search for an item, your results might include sites with a similar name, sites with slightly different spellings or one that directs you to s competitor’s site.
- Understanding how to detect Cybersquatting and knowing where to find resources to help remedy the situation. And on the other side, knowing your rights as a domain name registrar and not being bullied by those who may think they have rights when they don’t have a legitimate claim.