Last week, as we were working on setting up the framework for a new client’s website, we discovered something kind of unexpected in 2011: a local cybersquatter.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s defined by www.cybersquatting.com, a legal resource on the subject, as “the bad faith registration of a domain name containing another person’s brand or trademark in a domain name.” Often, the domain is made available for sale to the brand owner at an inflated price, or the squatter puts up a bare bones site full of advertising which attempts to profit off of misdirected traffic.
Back in the “day”, the domain registration game was a a wild west land grab. Smart people made a lot of money buying and selling domains, even sometimes inadvertently. A close friend of mine profited handsomely when his personal last-name domain that he purchased in the mid 1990′s was highly coveted by a Canadian company that shared his name.
This was all before search gained the foothold it has today. While a domain name is still important–even critical, sometimes–to a businesses success, there are usually alternatives. More significant is that a vital and relevant website be placed at the domain of choice. From there, the search engines usually do a pretty good job.
So what happened here? Our client has been in business for a year or so and his business features a branded truck that is seen all over town. As is often the case with new businesses, he has waited a bit to launch a website. Now that he’s ready, the most logical domain name was registered back in November 2010 by a local entity which currently owns 938 other domains. A visit to the site of the domain name in question finds the domain name ‘available for sale’. Nice.
Is this legal? Like so many questions of law, it depends. If a brand is not trademarked, a cybersquatter has a lot more running room than if a trademark exists. However, most start-ups do not make the effort to trademark their names, and many times such initiatives are unsuccessful anyway, due to existing conflicts.
The injured party can appeal to ICANN, the not-for-profit entity that manages the domain registration process. They can also send cease and desist letters. But those are after-the-fact remedies and may or may not work.
What surprised us was that someone here in Indianapolis was picking off relatively long domain names with very specific utility. In other words, if our client ain’t buying, probably no one would.
Our client did select a different domain name and he’s fine with that for now. We’ll see if we can shake the other one loose.
Meantime, advice for business owners: look up your desired domain name as soon as you name your business. In fact we recommend using domain availibility as part of determining your company name. Then, once the business name has been finalized, purchase the one or two domains that you want, even if you don’t plan to put up a website for awhile. Most domains run less than $10 per year, and you’ll be ready with the right name when the time comes.
Need help with this? Just let us know.