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.

Legal Advice for Small Businesses

Do you run a business? What sorts of legal issues do you normally encounter when running your business? For that matter, when was the last time you saw a solicitor? Would it be before you started your business – or only after you encountered a problem?

Solicitors are a little bit like doctors. You usually only ever see a doctor when you are sick – when something has gone wrong with your body. In the same way, businesses usually see solicitors when something has gone wrong. That shouldn’t be the case.

It is understandable that a majority of businesses are averse to seeking legal advice from a solicitor. Legal advice is often seen to be intrusive, complicated, annoying, and more often than not – expensive. However, the reality of the situation is that in order for your business to be successful, you need to get your business in order – and that includes sorting our your legal obligations as well as seeking ways in which your business can better protect itself. And the sooner you can do that, the easier it is to deal with problems in the future.

What sorts of matters do businesses commonly deal with? Terms of Trade, Trade Practices, Compliance with ASIC, Intellectual Property, Confidentiality, Leases, Bad Debts, Contracts, Disputes… the list is innumerable. Yes, you can ignore it or attempt to deal with it on your own. However the bottom line is that if something goes wrong, a significant sum of money can be spent attempting to rectify the problem. In contrast, investing a little time and money into getting some advice beforehand can greatly reduce the chances of such an incident occurring.

After all, if you have peace of mind in these aspects, you can better concentrate on running your business.

We want you to succeed – so if you ever need any help or a quick consultation and review of your business practices – please do not hesitate to call us!