& the GIIs
domain name squatting
This page looks at cybersquatting and typosquatting.
It covers -
A later page looks at mechanisms for resolving disputes
about cybersquatting, in particular the UDRP, ACPA, CDRP
A domain name is a mnemonic for a string of digits that
identifies an address in cyberspace. Disputes about domain
naming have come to embrace a range of disputes about
use/misuse of those addresses, with questions that include
has the right to use a particular name
there limits on free speech
are appropriate restrictions on names that are similar
to that of a particular address.
to those questions reflect personal values and commercial
They also reflect different registration and intellectual
Cybersquatting involves registering a domain name in 'bad
faith', in particular -
profit by selling that address to a business or individual
(eg Nike, British Telecom, Madonna) with the same corporate
name, product name or trademark
to deny those entities the use of the domain name
to gain a benefit by confusing surfers, who may believe
that the address is operated by a particular brand or
corporate name owner.
domain name is important because it can embody an offline
corporate identity, a trademark,
a geographical appellation or a personal name. That embodiment
has economic and cultural value, for example reflecting
the billions of dollars spent on marketing Pepsi or the
years of goodwill accrued by philanthropic organisations.
A name is also important because, as discussed in considering
it is an address in cyberspace: some addresses are easier
to find than others, some names are online destinations
(and thus generate traffic statistics that can be commodified)
because they share the same words as online entities.
Disputes about 'ownership' of domain names reflect different
perceptions of the DNS.
Culture Wars on the Net: Trademarks, Consumer Politics
& Corporate Accountability on the World Wide Web
by Rosemary Coombe & Andrew Herman for example comments
If you think the Web is simply a marketplace, a big
mall where companies compete for brand identity and
mindshare then Playboy's trademark protection makes
sense. While many large corporations have sunk piles
of money into making this vision of the Web a reality,
vast numbers of individual people are busy pursuing
a different vision one in which the Web is a giant communications
network in which we find one another based on a shared
interest, be it bottle-top collecting, Proust, or Playboy
bunnies. In the latter vision, any company that tries
to clamp down on use of its name is also going to stifle
any chance of building an enthusiastic following across
the Web. Playboy, with its history as the grand-daddy
of pinup magazines, is obviously less interested in
exploiting the Web's potential for building new kinds
of relationships than in simply protecting the gold
mine of its existing brand. Playboy can afford lots
of lawyers and appeals, and there is no guarantee that
its proprietary approach to words won't prevail. And
if the law ends up treating the Web as one big business
directory, then we shouldn't be surprised if the medium
ends up becoming as scintillating as a volume of the
reflects different registration rules.
Domain registration in several of the gTLDs - notably
dot-com - and some ccTLDs has a 'first come, first served'
basis. That means individuals and organisations have been
able to register names - often several thousand names
- that feature words used in trademarks, corporate names,
the names of prominent people, country names or other
In dot-au and some other
ccTLDs there are 'close association' requirements that
impede registration of names by unrelated entities and
limit development of a secondary market (ie restrictions
on transfer inhibit speculative registration).
Disputes also reflect the shape of naming offline.
Some terms may be protected under trademark or other legislation,
which varies in detail from country to country and which
often protects different uses of a term by different entities.
Ford Model Agency, Ford Motors, Ford Real Estate and Ford
Plumbing are distinct trademarks and registered business
names owned by different entities.
Many individuals have a surname that is the same as a
words in a business name or trademark. That has led to
conflict where a trademark owner has sought to take a
registration held by an individual whose surname is the
same as the mark or that relates to a business name rather
than a mark (eg the Nissan
dispute in the US). All names are equal; some are more
equal than others.
In some disputes there is no attempt to hold a trademark
owner hostage. Instead the disagreement involves conflict
between two entities with legitimate interests in using
a domain name. Under trademark law Ford Motors and Ford
Plumbing can each have a 'ford' mark but there is only
one ford.com domain, so that one entity is going to have
to use a different address. There have thus been cases
where a trademark owner has taken action against holders
of a domain name that contains that trademark, even where
there is little chance of confusion, to obtain the desirable
dot-com domain name.
Typosquatting involves registering names that are minor
typographical variations on brand names or other desirable
addresses on the web. The expectation is that surfers
will encounter the 'typo' site when they mis-key the desired
domain name (eg www.netcsape.com, telsra.com, microsotf.com,
altavsita.com, altavisto.com or amazom.com).
Typosquatting has generally been regarded as a sign of
bad faith and has taken two forms.
Some typosquatters, particularly in the adult content
industry where the revenue
of many site operators is primarily dependent on the number
of visitors to a page or set of pages, have simply sought
to free-ride on traffic.
Ben Edelman's 2003 report
offers an elegant analysis of bad practice by a US typosquatter
whose 5,000 sites mousetrapped
inadvertant visitors (eg disabled the 'back' command on
browsers) into viewing erotica.
Other typosquatters - like those making what many rights
owners consider to be improper use of metatags
- have sought to cream off customers of commercial sites.
Mis-type the address and you arrive at a site that offers
products/services from a competitor or that advocates
a political message quite different to what you were expecting.
One example is the 1998 Jews for Jesus case (PDF),
a dispute between the registrant of jews-for-jesus.org
and a critic who registered jewsforjesus.org and jews-for-jesus.com
for sites that ridiculed the registrant's beliefs. The
US court considered that the two registrations had been
made in bad faith and referred to the 1994 dispute between
Princeton Review and its competitor Kaplan Educational
Center. Princeton registered kaplan.com for a site disparaging
Kaplan and praising the Princeton Review.
Most disputes have a commercial basis and are amenable
to notions of 'bad faith' registration. Domain names used
in some 'sux' sites pose more difficult problems, notably
in the US regarding free speech.
As the term suggests, sux sites are established by individuals
or advocacy groups to criticise a business, a government
agency, another organization or even a prominent individual.
The domain names for such sites often incorporate a sux
or sucks suffix (eg exxonsux.com, aolsucks, microsoftsucks,
asdasucks.co.uk or telstrasux.com).
Some, such as starbucked and noamazon.com or tellthetruthtelstra.com.au,
are terse and even witty. Others are less succinct (eg
or so hermetic as to have little meaning to anyone other
than the registrant, eg pepsibloodbath, satanlovesthewashingtonpost
(the latter names from an enthusiast who has registered
over 50 anti-WP names).
Some sites are staid venues for cogent criticism. Others
contain what one WIPO panel described as "scandously and
disgustingly abusive" content.
Those attacked have accordingly exhibited a range of responses,
including claims of defamation,
breaches of copyright and trademark infringements - whether
direct or through dilution of the mark on the basis that
it is tarnished through association with illicit activity.
Some have successfully claimed that registration was in
One Asda critic for example lost his domain on the basis
that he had offered to sell it to the UK retailer. Entrepreneur
Dan Parisi, operator of the Whitehouse.com adult content
site, gained attention for registration of 700 domain
names containing 'sucks' and a major brand or corporate
Registrants, particularly in the US, have responded that
the names and site content are protected as free speech
and that visitors can readily differentiate between a
target site and its sucks counterpart, meaning that there
is no infringement. Critics such as the US Chilling Effects
have argued that courts and arbitration panels tend to
favour corporate interests in domain name disputes, thereby
chilling public discourse.
In 2000 the US Consumer Project on Technology accordingly
a new dot-sux gTLD, to be administered by a Dot Sucks
Foundation, as a special zone outside trademark constraints
"to enable citizens to improve civil society".
Figures on the prevalence of squatting, on its economic
significance and on the dimensions of litigation are contentious.
As of October 2002 around 11,000 actions had been initiated
under the UDRP. In 2007
WIPO reported that some 1,823 cybersquatting complaints
were filed in 2006, the highest number since 2000.
Particular entrepreneurs have attracted attention: Dennis
Toeppen for example used the trademarks of over 100 major
corporations in registering several hundred domain names.
He successfully sold some names for up to US$15,000 per
domain before facing litigation over trademark dilution
and other offences.
There are no authoritative global figures on the number
of companies that have simply bought out speculators or
blatant squatters. Figures for the global value of such
transactions similarly are not available.
A range of academic, industry and enthusiast sites track
individual domain disputes and the evolution of dispute
policy. UDRP sites and databases of particular importance
are noted on the UDRP page.
Other sites specialising in DNS disputes include DomainBattles