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Cybersquatting and Generic Top-Level Domains

A company’s web presence has become increasingly important over the past decade, and that trend shows no sign of letting up. In order to help businesses advertise their services more effectively online, the organization that controls internet traffic, ICANN, is beginning to release new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). gTLDs are the end portion of a web address, like .com or .edu, which denote the type of organization holding the website. The new gTLDs are much more specific, and make the site’s subject matter clearer. These new domains include endings like .LOANS, .LAWYER, and even .BEER.

The new gTLDs have been coming out over the past year, and they will continue to come out into at least next year. This new set of domains is creating the internet equivalent of a land grab. Companies are rushing to make sure that they register the names important to their brand. However, they are not alone. Third parties are also out registering domain names that companies may want, hoping to sell them to the companies for inflated prices, a practice known as cybersquatting.

What Cybersquatting Is

Cybersquatting happens when a person registers a domain name that a company would value, for instance abercrombie.CLOTHING, and then either ransoms it back to the company or uses it to impersonate the company online. This was a major problem in the early days of the internet, before companies realized how valuable their domains would be. The release of all these new web addresses has brought it back into the mainstream.

The new gTLDs did come with a process for stopping cybersquatting, but it has seen mixed results. The gTLDs come with a sunrise period that allows companies to register domain names that match their trademarks before the general public has access to them. However, sometimes companies do not participate in the process, or they miss domain names that they should have registered. This means that they need to find other ways of dealing with the squatters.

Stopping Cybersquatting

There are a variety of options for getting rid of cybersquatters. The quickest is to simply negotiate with them to purchase the domain. However, many people do not find this option appealing since it seems an awful lot like paying a ransom, and some squatters do not want to deal. Fortunately, there are also legal tools that trademark holders can use to recover their domains.

One such tool is the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). Congress passed ACPA in the late 1990s to deal with cybersquatting the first time that it became an issue. ACPA allows trademark holders to sue people who have registered a domain name that is confusingly similar to another party’s trademark, if the registrant plans to profit off the name in bad faith. These cases can include statutory damages of up to $100,000 per claim, along with attorney’s fees.

ICANN itself has a similar system in place. Trademark holders can file a request for arbitration under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. This policy allows ICANN to transfer domain names to other parties if the registrant had a bad faith intent to profit off of the name.

Cybersquatting can divert customers from your business. If you believe that your company has been the victim of a cybersquatter today, contact a West Palm Beach trademark attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today to learn more about your rights.

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