Imagine you have a great idea for a business and have picked out the perfect name. You rush to GoDaddy to register it, only to find that some other party has already purchased it and is apparently doing nothing with it. Unfortunately, it’s an issue many entrepreneurs face across the globe.
Known as cybersquatting, this practice involves individuals or organizations registering numerous domain names attached to various trademarks, with the intention of cashing in if and when those trademarks get sold. These squatters try to purchase as many domain names as possible that are closely linked to a high-profile individual or business, profiting by association. They might, for example, register domain names with slight misspellings to get people who enter typos into their web searches.
There are a few ways you can tell if you have been the victim of a cybersquatter. Your first step should be to check to see if the domain name you wish to register has been claimed by someone else. If so, visit the website and see if it’s legitimate. If it is a functional site that’s related to the domain name, then you were probably not the victim of a squatter. You should probably look at other domain name options.
However, if any of the following factors apply to the site, then you could very well be looking at a squatter-owned site:
- The website is perpetually under construction, likely for at least a year or more
- Your browser is unable to find the website or displays an error, despite evidence showing that someone owns the domain name
- The website has no relation to the domain name in question
Although these indicators do not necessarily mean someone is squatting your domain, they are certainly enough evidence to provide reasonable suspicion.
What to do if you suspect a squatter
If you have reason to believe the person is cybersquatting, you have several strategies available to you. First, you can visit www.whois.com to look up the information of the domain name registrant, and then directly contact that person to determine the purpose of the domain. In many cases, it is far cheaper to pay for the domain name, as litigation can be costly and take up a lot of time. This is, of course, what the squatter is counting on.
However, you are able file a civil claim under the “Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act” (ACPA). If you win the suit, the cybersquatter will receive a court order to transfer the domain name to you, and potentially pay you damages.
Here’s what it takes to be successful in this type of lawsuit:
- Proof that you had a distinctive trademark when the domain name was registered;
- Proof the domain name registrant registered the domain in bad faith with intent to profit;
- Proof the registered domain is identical or at least reasonably similar to your trademark; and
- Proof your trademark is protectable under federal law
If the registrant is to successfully defend against the claim, they must prove there was a reason for them to register the domain other than to eventually sell it.
To learn more about the issue of cybersquatting and to determine if you need to take legal action, consult an experienced corporate law and intellectual property attorney who is up to date on the latest in cybersecurity.
BoltNagi is a well-established civil litigation and business law firm proudly serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.