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Introduction to Cybersquatting
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) dealt with 3,400 cases of cybersquatting between January and October 2020. The incidents of cybersquatting have only risen since then.
Today, cybercrime has also spread to trademarks and companies’ domain names. Hence, the cybercriminals are leaving no stone unturned to illegally benefit from someone else’s brand name, trademark name, and domain names.
Cybersquatting is the newest form of trademark rights infringement where the infringers register and make use of such internet domain names that are identical to a company or individual’s trademarks and service marks.
What is Cybersquatting and its examples?
Cybersquatting is illegal using a domain name that is too identical to someone else’s registered service mark, trademark, or brand name. Cybersquatting examples are registering dominos.org if the trademark owner had not already done so or registering misspellings of dominos, such as daminos.org.
What Is The Purpose Behind Cybersquatting?
Cybersquatting aims to manipulate people into thinking of the particular domain as a high authority one and thus increasing website visits.
Top 5 Harmful Impacts of Cybersquatting
- By launching a website with a domain name similar to the owner’s registered trademark, the cybersquatter effectively prevents the owner from using his trademark.
- The original trademark owner is abstained from using his/her trademark. Further, cybersquatting also makes it hard for the trademark owner to benefit from his trademark, which causes a loss of potential revenue.
- A trademark owner’s ability to fully manage his trademark and its reputation is also limited by registering a website and reserving relevant search phrases.
- Cybersquatting affects the original brand owner by restricting them from using their brand name, trademark, or service mark in e-commerce as e-commerce marketplaces accept the registration based on first-come, first-serve criteria.
- Finally, the inclusion of a trademark in a domain name has the potential to make a phrase popular, leaving the term unprotected
A simple cybersquatting example would be:
Suppose someone register, sell, or utilize an internet domain with a protected trademark (registered) or service mark unlawfully. This illegal activity will help him profit from a well-known brand’s goodwill among consumers.
When Is Cybersquatting Illegal?
If a domain name fulfill any or all of these 2 conditions,
1. When the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark registered with the authority.
When a domain name is so similar to a registered trademark that the similarity can cause confusion among the consumers, it is considered illegal. Moreover, the trademark must be a registered one. Also, a special arbitration committee decides whether there is a likelihood of confusion.
But What If the Mark is Not Registered?
In this case, it is not cybersquatting and thus not illegal in first use. But when someone else purchases the domain intending to sell it to the brand owner at a later date for a profit, it is considered cybersquatting and is illegal.
2. The domain was acquired illegally or in bad faith
Courts examine the domain registrant’s motive when dealing with a cybersquatting lawsuit. Further, the cybersquatter’s aim comes under the definition of bad faith if it is some or all of the following:
- Destroy mark owner’s or a company’s market image.
- Sell the domain for a hefty fee to the legitimate trademark owner.
- Attract web traffic in order to make money from ads or affiliate marketing.
- Spread viruses or perform phishing schemes using the cybersquatter domain.
- Express dissatisfaction with the original website’s or brand’s purpose.
- Create a comparable company and take use of the established brand’s goodwill to fool customers.
- Selling the cybersquatter domain name to the competitor of the original trademark owner whose trademark rights the cybersquatter is infringing upon.
What Are The Types of Cybersquatting?
Here is a table listing all 7 types of cybersquatting with their primary purpose and examples.
|Types of Cybersquatting
|How is it done?
|Typosquatting (Using spelling variant that people could mistype)
|Cybersquatters purchase misspelled domain names for well-known brands on purpose. It involves: Adding/removing any digits, letters, or periods to the original spelling. Swapping the order of letters or words in a domain. In its most basic form, Typosquatting refers to any spelling variant that people could mistype.
|The purpose of typosquatting is to establish an illegal website that visitors will visit if they type a domain name incorrectly (i.e. misspell it or press one or more erroneous keys). It is also done for selling the website to the original owner at higher prices.
|Facebook.com Fakebook.com Faceboook.com
|Combosquatting attaches a word or a group of words to well-known trademarks rather than utilizing misspellings. Combosquatting has become more successful than typosquatting and is gradually gaining popularity.
|The goal of combosquatting is to create confusion among web surfers and thus attract more traffic.
|Cybersquatters may acquire a web portal that was not renewed by the previous owner by mistake, resulting in identity theft. Then, they link expired domain names to websites that are clones of the prior domain name owners’ websites after registering them.
|To misguide the site visitors into thinking that they are accessing the websites of the prior domain name owners.
|A website www.abcd.com wasn’t renewed by the owner due to carelessness or indecisiveness. Cybersquatter will acquire the relapsed website and gain from the traffic and ads.
|Top-Level Domains Exploitation Cybersquatting
|Small and medium-sized enterprises cannot afford to own all of the top domain name versions (.com,.ca,.tech,.org,) including their brand name. Cybersquatters take advantage of this circumstance by purchasing matching domains with different TLDs for a popular business.
|Either to persuade the original brand or trademark owner to pay a high price for the domain variant for saving their company’s image or to create phishing sites that use domain variations to deceive the original site’s visitors.
|Suppose a company gets a domain variant in .com and .tech but can’t afford to buy .org and .info variants. The cybersquatter will now buy these left variants and make illegal use.
|Cybersquatters, in this scenario, divide a domain name into two pieces, purchase a domain for the latter half, and then add a subdomain for the initial part.
|Anyone can create a subdomain of any term (Facebook, Amazon) as long as the principal domain name (the one put before the top-level domain) is unique. The primary aim is to confuse the visitors.
|Apple.XYZ.com (Here, Apple is the subdomain and XYZ is the principal domain name)
|Punycode (a subset of Unicode characters) is used by cybersquatters to transform conventional domain names (having ASCII digits, words, letters, & special characters) into domain names that appear legal to consumers.
|To attract web traffic or inject malicious software.
|E.g. of a punnycode is xn--80ak6aa92e.com
|Registering domain names in the name of a person, generally a celebrity or a public name.
|To profit from the online traffic associated with a domain created in the name of a renowned person.
|Many celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Madonna, etc., have been the victims of name-jacking.
How Can You Take Action Against Cybersquatting?
If you are from USA and facing cybersquatting, you have 2 options available:
- You can sue in accordance with the rules under or under the provisions of the Anti Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
- Go to the international arbitration system developed in the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers.
As compared to ACPA, ICANN is much preferred legal remedy against cybersquatting because of following 3 reasons:
- Takes less time
- Cheaper than ACPA
- No need to hire attorneys
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