A slick website is essential if you want to get noticed on the Internet. It usually starts with a catchy web address that's easy to remember. But cybersquatters could be working against you, trolling in cyberspace, trying to make a buck off your name.
“It's still a major problem on the Internet that a lot of small businesses and major corporations are affected by it,” said Ron Jackson editor and publisher of the Domain Name Journal.
The Pasco county man tracks the sale of domain names and has written about all kinds of different scams involving cybersquatters.
"You're taking a risk, which a lot of people are willing to take, particularly if it's an operation, say in Eastern Europe, out of the reach of the American court system," said Jackson.
A common scam is registering misspellings or typos of a popular brand or trademark or buying the .net or .biz of a popular .com.
"They will register a similar name and try and divert traffic," said Nathan Suedmeyer. an intellectual property lawyer with the Largo firm Larson & Larson.
Suedmeyer says cybersquatting all comes down to intent and whether it's done in bad faith.
“There are a lot of legitimate reasons to register a name even if it’s a popular brand,” said Suedmeyer. "For example, there may be a local farmer who has an interest in selling apples on a website called apple.com, which wouldn't necessary be a bad faith reason to register the name."
Years ago, a fan snatched up BruceSpringsteen.com before The Boss could buy it. Since the fan is not selling anything on it or making any money and Springsteen is a public figure, there's no bad faith intent and the fan got to keep it.
"Springsteen being a person of principal could have bought it, but he refused to reward that person for sitting on his name," said Ron Jackson. “So if you pick up his CD, to this day his website is still BruceSpringsteen.net.”
There is nothing wrong with buying a domain name which is not trademarked or specific to a company. In fact, the resale of generic names can be very lucrative.
Jackson recently reported on the sale of the domain name Whisky.com which fetched over $3 million. The price for Vodka.com was in the same neighborhood.
Disputes involving alleged bad-faith registration are typically resolved using the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, often referred to as simply the UDRP.
But it will cost several thousand dollars to hire an attorney like Suedmeyer to navigate you though for the process.
Cybersquatters know this information and will sometimes offer to sell a domain name for just a little bit less than it would cost to take legal action.
“They'll make it clear that they have it so an entrepreneur or brand owner knows it and they can negotiate, but they’ll walk that line so that they don't cross over into bad faith," continued Suedmeyer.
Politicians don’t have the same protection as companies, trademarks, or private people, so they have to be smart before seeking public office.
“Register all the different versions you can think about -- Elect John Smith, Vote John Smith -- and then think what would your enemies put up," said political consultant and new media publisher Peter Schorsch. "That's something that Charlie Christ didn't do this time around and he has a lot of websites with his name being used against him."
Internet experts seem to agree this common practice of squatters walking the line in cyberspace trying to make money or take down somebody else’s good name is likely here to stay.
“I don't think there is any way to get around it because it’s a global communications medium," added Jackson.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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