Domain cybersquatting has unfortunately become a high ROI activity for bad faith actors who seek to steal and siphon traffic that would otherwise go to a legitimate company. These domain cybersquatters spend their time and resources buying up slightly misspelled or similar variation of a company’s URL in order to trick and deceive customers into visiting sites that are not actually affiliated with the original company or brand.
As an example, domain cybersquatters may seek to steal customers of ABC Company, who uses the web address ABCCompany.com, by setting up a competing website at ABCCompanies.com. The slight misspelling of the URL is enough to trick customers into clicking the wrong link, where they are ultimately redirected to an unaffiliated site. Once there, a user may be directed by the cybersquatters to competing ads and then to an unrelated product or service rather than what is offered by the victimized company or brand. Domain cybersquatters may also run Google or Facebook ads to the incorrect domain, hoping to capitalize on the reputation and good will of the company they are seeking to mimic. Again, the ultimate goal is to steal traffic, profits, and possibly hurt the reputation of the original company.
Unfortunately, cybersquatting is a bigger problem than most people realize because the purchase of a domain name is a cheap and easy process. For under $10, someone can register a variant of your domain name and profit from it for weeks, months, or even years before you ultimately realize what’s happening.
Fortunately, there are preemptive steps you can take to protect yourself from domain cybersquatting. One action is to purchase misspelled versions of your domain name on your own. By taking them out of inventory, you can ensure that they are not available for bad actors to purchase down the road. This may also include buying different extensions of your website, including .net and .biz variations.
If you have a registered trademark and someone is using a domain that is causing confusion or dilution of your business or brand, you may have legal remedies that you can pursue as well. First, you may be able to sue under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). In order to bring an action under ACPA, the plaintiff must prove that the trademark in question was distinctive and enjoyed trademark status at the time the domain was registered. The plaintiff must also prove that the squatter acted in bad faith with an intent to profit.
You may also be able to use an international arbitration system known as the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process (UDRP), which is administered by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Going through arbitration under this process can often provide a cheaper and easier resolution to disputes between trademark owners and bad faith cybersquatters of misspelled or confusingly similar domain names.
Of course, a key step to being able to enforce your rights through any of these avenues is to have a registered trademark in the first place. If you haven’t already, be sure to work with a trademark attorney to properly register your business name, logo, tagline, etc. so that if someone is using your trademarked name in the form of a URL in bad faith, you will have more options to remedy the situation at your disposal.
If you have questions about domain cybersquatting or need assistance registering a trademark for your business or brand, contact our intellectual property lawyers at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.
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