Cybersquatting began as the Internet started making its way into the world. A few entrepreneurial-minded individuals saw and understood the vast marketing potential of the Internet and starting purchasing domain names using trademarks of large companies. As companies like Panasonic and Hertz realized they needed an Internet presence, they had to negotiate with cybersquatters for their domain names. These companies got savvier, and the opportunity for cybersquatting has diminished. It’s still a fairly common practice, but now some legal protections exist to help the victims of cybersquatting.
What is cybersquatting? When an individual purchases and registers a domain name with a well-known trademark, he or she is cybersquatting if he or she doesn’t have the rights to the trademark and intends to profit for the trademark’s goodwill. For example, say you run a large, well known national company named Galactic Pools. If an individual purchases and registers the domain name www.galacticpools.com with the sole intention of selling it to you when you started building your website, she or he would be cybersquatting. Now if another established pool company just happened to beat you to the punch, you may just have to rename your company.
Are You Being Cybersquatted?
Even with a solid definition, it can be tricky to determine if you are a victim or cybersquatting or if another business owner just grabbed the domain name fair and square. Does the domain name in question fit any of the following criteria?
- The website is under construction for a year or longer.
- Your browser only shows a “cannot find server” message.
- The website and domain name appear unrelated.
If yes, you may have cause for concern, but be careful as a site might genuinely be under construction. You can find who a domain name is registered to using free online resources.
Remedy 1: Sue for Trademark Infringement
If you’ve determined you are a victim of cybersquatting, what can you do know? Luckily, you have three options available to you. The first is suing the domain registrant for infringing on your trademark rights under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). You can sue to get domain rights and possibly monetary compensation for damages. To qualify for this type of case, you must prove:
- The trademark was established when the domain name was initially registered.
- The domain registrant, or alleged cybersquatter, intended to profit from the trademark in bad faith.
- The registered domain is either identical or might easily be mistaken for the company’s trademark.
- The trademark is eligible for protection under United States trademark laws, which means the owner is the first to use the trademark and the mark is established or distinctive.
Remedy 2: Pursue ICANN Arbitration
Your second option if you believe you are the victim of cybersquatting is utilizing the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) arbitration system. With this option, you can win the rights to your domain name and avoid court. To qualify for ICANN arbitration, you must prove:
- The domain registrant has no nights to the domain name or has no intention of using the name.
- The domain name is identical or could easily be mistaken for the trademark or service mark of the claimant.
- The domain name was purchased in bad faith.
Remedy 3: Pay the Cybersquatter’s Fee
At some point, you may find yourself weighing the costs of court and arbitration versus the cybersquatter’s fee. Unfortunately, the most effective and expeditious cybersquatting resolutions simply involved buying the domain name. Ultimately, it may be cheaper once you factor in legal fees.
Cybersquatting hasn’t been around since the dawn of business transactions, but it deals with a hallmark of a good business brand: trademarking. If you’re worried you might be a victim of cybersquatting, consult with your legal team and learn more.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.