Cybersquatting!

We were recently asked to address a question involving cybersquatting. Cybersquatting is a controversial practice where an individual or a business registers an internet domain name (the website address) that someone else may have an interest in. The “cybersquatter” then often refuses to do anything… until they have been paid, of course.

This sort of behaviour often arises from the “first come first serve” nature of the domain name registration system, as well as the relative ease and low cost of registering a domain name. Cybersquatters often register a large number of domain names that other people may have an interest in, and then auction them off or sell them for a higher price than the price of the registration.

Over the last decade or so there have been a number of high profile cases where this sort of behaviour took place. In the 2000s, websites such as “madonna.com” and “singaporeairlines.com” were occupied by alleged cybersquatters. In 2004, the rapper Eminem won a case against a cybersquatter. There were disputes over “juliaroberts.com” and “jimihendrix.com”.

This practice still continues. As a small business, you might have encountered such practices in the past, or you may be a target of cybersquatters. If something like this does happen to you, you can take some action through the WIPO’s Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy or, if the domain name ends with “.au”, the .au Dispute Resolution Policy.

An example of a complaint would be one where you have registered a business or a trade mark within Australia, and the “cybersquatter” registered the domain name, in bad faith, some time after you registered your business or your trade mark, and has no intention of using it in any way.

The UDRP or the .auDRP have some remedies, such as cancelling or transferring the domain name registration. Unfortunately the process requires putting together sufficient evidence to support your case, does take some time, and may not be cost effective – you also are unlikely to recover legal costs spent to pursue this.

In the alternative, complainants may lodge a complaint saying that the person who registered the domain name is not eligible to register that name – however this would likely result only in the revocation or cancellation of the registration.

Because the internet is such an important aspect of small business these days, it is very important to plan ahead for these things. Before starting up, you should check out if the domain name related to your brand or your company is taken. Even if you have no intention of putting up a website immediately, you should take steps to preemptively block out or register domain names related to you or your business. For a small cost, this will likely save you the hassle of going through the lengthy dispute resolution process that you would have to go through if you didn’t do these from the beginning.

Author: Kenneth Ti

Kenneth Ti is an Associate Solicitor with Phang Legal and a graduate from the University of New South Wales. He is focused on providing services to small and medium sized businesses. He has a background in civil and commercial law. Kenneth is a strong believer in community services and pro bono work.