Cybersquatting

Microsoft Sues Domain Registrar

According to articles in the Washington Post and PC World today, Microsoft has filed a lawsuit against domain registrar Red Register for registering 125 names with Microsoft trademarks. Although the domain names are currently registered to another company in Tortola, Microsoft believes the current information is false (according the article).

This marks the second registrar in recent history to have a lawsuit filed against it for cybersquatting. A couple of months ago, Yahoo and Dell both filed lawsuits against domain registrar Belgium Domains for registering domain names infringing on their brands. While both of these instances accuse the registrar of owning the infringing domain names, it is scary to think that this could potentially happen to a more mainstream registrar who controls millions of domain names and happens to have some trademark names among them. An article on DomainNameNews.com prints an email showing that many domain names at Belgium Domains are currently locked by the registry.

Trademark holders have become more aggressive in defending their marks in the past several months, not simply going after the domain owners as they did in the past. Back in June, Vulcan Golf sued Google for helping domain owners monetize domain names that they believe infringed upon their trademark. Domain owners need to use caution and common sense when registering domain names.

Argument to Remove Registrant Search Tool

In a blog post on November 11th, Jay Westerdal asks his blog readers for their opinions on whether DomainTools’ controversial Registrant Search tool should be taken down. Although I think it is a cool tool, I believe I have a strong case for why it should be taken down, and my case is supported by evidence provided by Jay in this morning’s blog post, “Chameleon typo squatters.”

In Jay’s newest post, he discusses how some people attempt to mask their identity by registering domain names using other companies’ registration information, with the only difference being the admin contact email address. Jay cites the example of the domain name GoogleWishes.com, which appears to be owned by Google, but uses a different contact email address.

With the  Registrant Search tool, this domain name would presumably be listed in Google’s list of domain names, when someone performs a Registrant Search using “Google” as a query. Because the email address differs from the actual email address used by Google in their domain registrations, this domain name does not appear to be owned by Google. However, GoogleWishes.com would appear in the list along with other Google properties such as  Google.com,  GoogleMaps.com,  GoogleVideo.com, and many more.

I know you can whittle down your results by entering more information (such as the usual admin contact email), but if a person ordered the results based on what appears in the Whois.sc/Google.com listing – (Registrant Search: “Google Inc.” owns about 8,211 other domains), this name would probably appear.

Although the domain name GoogleWishes.com would probably not hurt the image of Google, a devious person could severely impact a competitor’s or opponent’s image by registering pornographic or trademark infringing domain names in someone else’s name. Unless a careful examination is made of each name in the list, the Registrant Search tool could be damaging to the victim of a “chameleon typo squatter.”

CADNA Responds to ICA’s Code

CADNA Responds to ICA’s Adoption of a Member Code of Conduct

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA), a non-profit association created to stop various domain name abuses, has responded to the Internet Commerce Association’s (ICA) 8 point member Code of Conduct. The code was created to promote industry best practices to all domain owners in order to maintain ethical business practices. CADNA is most concerned with the points related to infringement upon other companies’ trademarks, as their membership is comprised of some of the largest companies in the world, including, AIG, Dell, Marriott, Yahoo, Verizon, and several others.

CADNA’s response includes three additions to help enhance the code of conduct. Their suggestions include:

“First, ICA members should oppose domain name tasting (not just kiting), and using a third party’s brand, or other trademark misuses, without permission. Such actions should be avoided altogether, even if the name is registered for less than five days.Secondly, ICA members will not monetize (serve ads) on behalf of their third party customers’ domains that infringe upon brand names without explicit permission of the trademark holder. This commitment includes agreeing not to register domains that are confusingly similar to brands.

Lastly, ICA members who are registrars will not taste domain names themselves, and they will not wait for ICANN to establish a policy to uphold their fiduciary obligations to the public.”(Source: CADNA Press Release)

As a Professional Member of the ICA, I agree with all of their points. In the past, I bought non-infringing names before dropping them within the 5 days, but that wasn’t to test traffic. I did it when I first started in the business to try and take a $7 registration to flip it for $25 a couple of days later. I don’t think this is particularly harmful, but since many people use the loophole to quickly test traffic on potential trademark names, I don’t see the harm in closing it.

I don’t believe a domain owner should have the right to own a clear and undisputed trademark domain name. In my opinion, nobody except Verizon has the right to own a domain name like VerizonMobilePhones.com except for Verizon.

The most difficult situation is determining when a domain name clearly infringes upon someone else’s trademark. Just because a domain name happens to have the letters “aig” and “insurance” in them, doesn’t necessarily mean it is infringing on AIG’s brand trademark. For example, AIGInsurance.com would clearly be an infringing domain name; however, PaigeInsurance.com, a NH-based insurance company run by the Paige Family, would not infringe simply because it has “aig” and “insurance” in its domain name.

One point of interest related to this press release is the lack of actual press it seems to have received. When CADNA was created a couple of months ago, I read news articles everywhere. My Google Reader sent me PR notices from tens of news outlets throughout the world. For this press release, I didn’t hear about it until 4 days after the release, and had someone not posted it in one of the forums, I wouldn’t have seen it at all (Thanks to Josh Melamed for posting it on Rick’s Forum!)

Ignorance is no Excuse

Candidates locked in name game over Web domains

I’ve been seeing quite a few articles about politicians buying the domain names of their opponents, but I haven’t seen something as blatant as what the lady in the aforementioned article has been doing. The lady apparently believes that she can buy the domain names of realtors, doctors and other professionals in the hopes of selling to them for a profit. I think this is a case of ignorance more than anything else, but it certainly isn’t right. This is straight-up cybersquatting.

As domain investing becomes more mainstream, educating new investors is going to be important. I believe it is the job of the registrars’ to educate their buyers. Companies like Godaddy have gone mainstream, but I believe they are failing to educate their consumers. You wouldn’t leave out seatbelts in a Ferrari, so registrars should educate their buyers on the laws of cybersquatting and the penalties they could bring. As I said in this post, consumers should have “to check off a box acknowledging that they are aware of the Lanham Act and its penalties before every registration.

Someone needs to give this “domain reseller” a clue.

Did Rick Schwartz Hear from CADNA?

A few weeks ago, Rick Scwartz blogged about CADNA on Rick’s Blog. He took a different tact than many and emailed them offering his assistance by joining their cause. As of a few days later, Rick’s email had gone unanswered. Perhaps they were on vacation since the summer was ending? Maybe they weren’t interested in Rick’s overture? I wonder if Rick ever received a response from them…

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