I was intrigued by an article I read in the Morehead News, a newspaper based in Morehead, Kentucky. What was I doing reading a Kentucky-based newspaper? Well, I received a Google News alert about a domain name theft and case of cybersquatting and I checked it out. The article references CityOfMorehead.com, the official city website for a number of years.
According to the article, city officials seem to think “their website was stolen via ‘cyber squatting.'” I did a bit of research on the domain name, and according to a Whois search on the last archive date where the domain name was owned by the city, the domain name was set to expire on November 26, 2009. It appears to me as if the domain name was not renewed and someone else acquired it.
The business of drop catching expiring domain names is completely legitimate – and it’s the reason companies like Snapnames and Namejet are in business.It’s also the reason why several high profile domain name investors became very wealthy. It’s not necessarily from selling the expired names back to the previous owner, but by using those names for their businesses. Godaddy also allows people to place backorders on domain names, on the off-chance the name isn’t renewed.
The article quotes Jason England of Premier Quest ISP, the website’s host (according to the news article). England believes it’s a case of cybersquatting. He mentioned that when a domain name expires, there are people who will try to register it immediately, especially “folks typically from the same type of geography that the majority of the world’s spam and viruses come from.”
Incidentally, the Administrative Contact at the time the city owned the domain name was firstname.lastname@example.org. Had someone paid the annual renewal fee of somewhere around $10, the city would still presumably own the domain name. Based on my experience, Godaddy sends notices 90, 60, 30, and 15 days prior to a domain name’s expiration – and possibly even more frequently.
As far as I am aware, it’s perfectly legal to register domain names – especially geographic and non-trademarked domain names – after they expire. Just check out what a UDRP panelist said about geodomain names recently when he referenced, ““the general rule that geographic names are not subject to trademark protection.”
I will provide an example to equate this to physical real estate,. If someone in Morehead, Kentucky decides he doesn’t wish to pay property taxes this year, I am sure the city will go after his property, maybe file a lien, and perhaps even seize it. They may even put it up for auction for others to bid on it once it’s seized. Likewise, when someone doesn’t renew their domain name, the registrar can put the name up for auction.
If the City of Morehead wishes to have this domain name back so they don’t have to order hundreds of dollars worth of stationery, they should hope the owner would want to sell it to them. Otherwise, they will be forced to use new email addresses, change all inbound links, and probably spend in excess of the $10,000 figure they quoted in the article. They now also need to worry about confidential emails addressed to @cityofmorehead.com email addresses.
I honestly feel badly for the City. This is a very good example of why domain owners need to be the Administrative Contact email on their domain names so they can be sure the bill is paid each year.