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CADNA Responds to ICA’s Code

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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!)

“Carrotheads” vs. “Parrotheads”

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Domain investors often believe domain names are the most frequent target of overbearing trademark holders. That isn’t always the case as evidenced by a recent lawsuit. According to Page Six of the New York Post, singer Jimmy Buffet is suing Six Flags theme parks for infringing on his trademark rights. Six Flags has a 10,000 member “Carrothead Club,” for children who are fans of Bugs Bunny. Buffet believes the name of the club infringes upon his trademark, “Parrotheads,” as his fans are known. The New York Post says that Six Flags has “no plans to discontinue the club.”

Bodog’s CEO Responds

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In his response to my post, Calvin Ayre, CEO of Bodog misinterpreted my thoughts. In reference to my blog post about branding vs. generic domain names, Calvin stated, “I don’t agree with his thinking that a brand cannot rebuild itself when its domain name is generic.”

What I said was, “Yes, a brand can be built around a generic domain name, as demonstrated by the Hotels.com example. However, I don’t think a generic domain name should be used to rebuild a brand.” I agreed with Bodog’s decision to continue with the Bodog brand rather than buying a generic domain name, as Frank Schilling recommended.

I think Bodog’s strategy is spot on, and not only are they not losing customers, all of the news surrounding this news story is certainly allowing Bodog to reach more customers. After reading all of the news events, people know what Bodog is, people know what Bodog does, and most importantly, people know where to find Bodog. The point of my blog post was that Bodog was smart to keep the Bodog brand, even though their original domain name was taken.

On a side note, it’s great to see a CEO like Calvin take the time to blog.  

Branding vs. Generic Domain Names

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With few exceptions, company brands and generic domain names are opposites. The objective of a brand manager is to distinguish his brand from the competition. The objective of a generic domain name owner is to provide content or advertising links that are general enough to interest the visitors. A brand manager ultimately wants to build loyalty to his brand so the visitor becomes a customer and returns. A typical generic domain owner wants a visitor to click through and possibly provide enough interesting content that the visitor returns so he can click again.

An exception to this is Hotels.com. They have built their brand around a generic domain name. When a person wants to find a hotel at a good price or when they want to read reviews about various hotels, they specifically navigate to the brand, Hotels.com. When a person who doesn’t know about Hotels.com (the company) navigates to Hotels.com, they are looking to find a hotel. This is a prime example of a brand being built around a generic domain name, giving the loyal Hotels.com customer and the random visitor the same valuable information, while building brand recognition and loyalty for both.

In the case of Calvin Ayre’s Bodog brand, the company wants its clients and potential clients to gamble at BodogLife.com and partake in the “Bodog lifestyle.” When the brand was threatened recently, Bodog changed their domain name from Bodog.com to NewBodog.com and then finally to BodogLife.com. Although the domain name changed, the brand and messaging remained constant.

In his blog, Frank Schilling argues that “Calvin should have used this opportunity to buy InternetCasino.com from Xedoc.” As much as I respect Frank, I disagree with him. First, InternetCasino.com would have been a very expensive acquisition for Bodog – probably much more than the value they would receive in return. Not only would this have changed the domain name, but it would have completely altered the brand and the lifestyle portrayed. Visitors to InternetCasino.com are looking for a place to place their bets. Bodog customers are looking for Calvin.

Integrating a brand with a generic domain name doesn’t usually make sense. Yes, a brand can be built around a generic domain name, as demonstrated by the Hotels.com example. However, I don’t think a generic domain name should be used to rebuild a brand.

Adwords: Buying A Competitor’s Domain Name

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In August, I blogged about American Airlines suing Google for allowing other companies to buy their trademarked terms such as “American Airlines.”    I argued that Google should win this case because it was my opinion that another company should be able to buy generic keywords, like “American airlines,” since it isn’t necessarily associated with American Airlines.    Had it been a company with a more distinctive trademark, I would have argued that it was unethical to buy those keywords.    I have no legal background, so I couldn’t weigh in with a legal opinion.

That brings me to a post I just read on a forum about a company I do business with that is buying not only a keyword with the name of a competitor in it, but the actual domain name of the competitor.    I was surprised to see that when you type Sedo.com into Google, obviously searching for Sedo, there is a BuyDomains.com paid advertisement.    I don’t think this should be permitted by Google.    It’s one thing to buy keywords such as “Domain Brokers” or “Domain Sales,” but I don’t think it’s right to buy the exact keyword domain name of a competitor.

I am sure companies across a wide variety of industries are utilizing this practice, but that doesn’t make it right.

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WSJ: Web-Address Theft Is Everyday Event

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Web-Address Theft Is Everyday Event

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article about a topic that most people in the domain investment business have been worried about for quite some time – domain theft. The WSJ article discusses the ease in which thieves can take possession of someone else’s domain name, and the detrimental effect it can have on a business that is reliant on the domain name as an ecommerce outlet or the email addresses associated with the domain name.

When a domain name is stolen, the thief usually tries to sell the name quickly, profiting even before the legitimate domain owner knows the name is out of his possession. Payment is usually requested through a company like Western Union, as it can be more difficult to track the thief. Once the domain name is sold, the new owner may try to sell it for a profit, believing he received a good deal, or he may begin to develop a website around the domain name. It isn’t until the domain name servers are changed that the legitimate owner would notice something was fishy, as his website wouldn’t resolve and email would suddenly stop working. The situation turns into a bad problem because two people feel that they are the legitimate owner, and determining the actual ownership becomes problematic.

Registrars don’t typically help unless there is a court order, as they would probably rather turn a blind eye than become involved in a potentially litigious situation. This makes it difficult for the legitimate owner, and it becomes more complicated when the registrar and/or new owner is located in a different country. Retrieving a stolen domain name can be a complicated task, and it may be best to enlist the assistance of an attorney like John Berryhill (quoted in the article) or Brett Lewis.

Some tips I would offer to ensure your domain name doesn’t get stolen include:
1.) Make sure your registrar password is made up of letters, numbers, and characters to make it difficult to hack.

2.) Keep the email address on the Whois record current

3.) Frequently log in to your email account on the Whois record, and/or forward all emails to a regularly read email account in case you receive a notice from the registrar.

4.) Do not click on links in emails as they may be phishing attempts to gain access to your various accounts.

5.) Do not log into your registrar accounts or email accounts from computers that aren’t secure, as keylogging software could track everything you type.

6.) Make sure your domain registration is up to date. It’s always better to pay far in advance.

7.) If you have an auto-payment plan in place to pay your registration annually, make sure your credit card information is up to date so it doesn’t get rejected, causing the re-registration to fail.

As I stated in a previous blog post, here are some tips to help prevent you from buying a stolen domain name:

1.) Do a Whois history check
-Did anything recently change?
-Does something seem strange in the Whois history like a different email address just added?
-Length of domain name ownership is a good way to tell if someone has all rights to the name

2.) Call the listed owner
-If the email address just changed, the owner will tell you the name isn’t for sale
-Conversation is frequently avoided by scammers

3.) Call/email the former owner
-They will tell you if they sold it (or if it was stolen)

4.) Search the forums/Google for any information that may raise red flags
-Stolen domain name posts
-Spam references on Google

5.) Do a WIPO/UDRP search
-May not be a anti-theft tool, but just make sure the history is clean

6.) Always pay with Escrow
Escrow.com, Sedo, Moniker or Afternic offer this service

7.) Never pay with money order or cashier’s check
-Difficult to track
-Many scams involve counterfeit checks/money orders

8.) Only buy from the listed registrant
-Don’t attempt to buy from the technical contact if it’s different from the registrant
-Technical contact doesn’t necessarily own the name, but may just manage the domain name

9.) TRUST YOUR GUT!
-If an offer is too good to be true, it probably is
-If the terms the seller is requesting seem strange, question them

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