Cybersquatting is a form of cyberspace domain name trademark infringement. In a nutshell, Cyber-squatters registered trademarks as domain names, typically selling the names back to the registered trademark owners at a profit.
Cybersquatting has been around for years, and it’s usually not illegal unless they use the site in bad faith or if other terms violate ICANN‘s (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) rules. However, there are many ways you can prevent your business from falling into cybersquatting tricks or any potential frauds.
In this blog post, we will define what cybersquatting is, discuss its types and how to prevent them, and talk about whether or not it is legal.
What does cybersquatting mean?
Cybersquatting meaning relates to the situation when someone purchases domain name registrations that infringe on any trademarked or copyrighted material. Cybersquatters intend to sell the website back to the trademark owner at an inflated price for them to make money off it.
If you spot cyber squatted websites, you should report them immediately so they can be removed from the search engine results.
Cybersquatting is a common practice. One of the most famous examples of cybersquatting was when Jeff Bezos purchased the “GoAmazon” domain name for $250,000 to prevent it from being bought by another online retailer that wanted to use his trademarked name.
Is domain squatting similar to cybersquatting?
The term Domain squatting is a practice where someone buys the domain name of another person or company to sell it back for an inflated price. For example, if I have domains squatted on your website, then you will need to pay me before I let anyone revisit it to gain access.
Domain squatting means unauthorised domain registration and use of Internet domain names identical or confusingly similar to trademarks, service marks, company names, or personal names.
Domain squatting is not the same as cybersquatting, but there are some similarities. People behind domain squatting will try to sell uniform domain names they registered for the highest bidder than what it cost them since they know someone may want to purchase that name due to its value and popularity. However, you can still take legal action against these squatters and file a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
To view a concise version of this article, we invite you to watch our video on the same topic.
Types of cybersquatting
There are many different types of cybersquatting. We define those as:
Good faith cybersquatting
This was when the domain name was registered in good faith, and it could be considered a legitimate non-commercial use.
Bad faith cybersquatting
Bad faith cybersquatting or bad faith registration of domain names is a legal term used to define the practice of registering, trafficking in, or using an internet corporation domain name with the intent to profit from the goodwill associated with someone else’s trademark.
Trademark owners have identified several activities that indicate bad faith in cybersquatting. For example, cybersquatters may create websites that appear to be official websites of the registered trademark owner to attract internet users interested in the named entity to their website, where they will try and sell products or services under confusingly similar assigned names at inflated prices which results in profiting from others trademarks without authorisation.
Mainly, bad faith factors include:
- Intellectual property rights or the trademark in the domain name
- legal names or a commonly used name to identify someone
- non-commercial or fair use
- use of the domain name to goods or services offerings
Typosquatting is a special kind of cybersquatting that involves the domain registration containing misspellings of popular websites to fool users into visiting their site instead. Typosquatters will purchase common spelling errors for website URLs, hoping internet surfers would be unaware they are incorrect and mistype them while searching on search engines.
This is when a person purchases the domain name to use for their purposes. This could be personal, or business uses, but it’s not done with bad intent or in an attempt to make money off someone else’s trademarked material.
The domain name owner registers a trademark to sell it for a profit later, but in many cases, they will not hold onto the site because there is no intention of using it.
Rights protection cybersquatting
The domain name owner registers a trademark to protect it or prevent other parties from using it.
Gripe Sites Cybersquatting
Gripe sites show a company’s shortcomings and complain about them. Cyber-squatters take advantage of gripe sites by registering a company’s domain name with different top-level domains (TLDs) or extensions. The site owner can get numerous visitors looking for their website. Still, instead, they end up on an alternative website that cyber-squatters own.
Reverse cybersquatting is when a trademark or brand name is registered as a domain name by another party. It can be to protect the mark, keep it off-limits to competitors and cybersquatters alike, sometimes for extortion purposes.
Expiration Dates Exploitation Cybersquatting
The domain name is registered with the intent to wait until the trademark owner registration expires, then sell it at a higher price.
What is a cybersquatter?
Cybersquatters are domain name owners who register, buy and sell new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains) with the intent of profiting from non-trademark holders. They can be individual or business that registers, typically as many domain names as possible containing common misspellings of well-known trademarks to benefit from attracting traffic to those sites.
Is cybersquatting illegal or not?
Cybersquatting is not illegal unless it has the intent to profit. It is not unlawful; it can be very damaging to a business or company if its mark has been registered as a domain name. Suppose an individual or business feels they have had their trademark rights violated and/or used by another party to build up traffic on the internet for profit. In that case, they may take legal advice and legal action against them under the AntiCybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). Several other types of IP laws apply when dealing with trademarks and cyber-squatters, such as copyright law that protects original works from being copied without permission.
What measures can companies take to combat cybersquatting?
It’s easier to avoid being the victim of a domain squatter than clean up afterwards. Several actions can be taken to prevent cybersquatting.
- Register domain names before someone else does, which is referred to as “Premium Domain Name Registration.”
- Be familiar with any domain names containing misspellings or variations of your brand name and .com/.org/net versions.
- Contact those who have registered similar names to yours, especially if they contain common misspellings or typos of your mark.
- Purchase your domains name directly from a registrar, which will ensure you are the valid owner of it and give you more control over its use.
- Contact the current domain owner if they violate the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act or any other rights that may be protected by IP laws.
- Purchase domain ownership protection insurance from a third party to make sure you are covered against cybersquatters.
- Be the owner of the record for your domain’s name.
- Reach out to those who claim they own the trademark, even if their TLDs are different from yours; ask them politely for cooperation in transferring control overuse of the name without further actions.
What is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers?
ICANN is a non-profit organisation that manages the global domain name system, which includes managing generic top-level domains (gTLD) such as .com, .org and country code top-level domains (.ca, UK).
How to get the cyber squatted domain name back?
Contact the responsible party if you have been cyber squat on the domain name and want it back. It can be a complicated process to recover your domains if they do not cooperate, but there are legal measures that may help you get this accomplished such as filing a complaint with WIPO or taking them to federal court; however, these types of actions are not recommended for the average person to take since it can be quite costly.
If you have attempted all recovery methods without success, consider buying back your domain name from them or letting another company use it in exchange for a share of future profits made off it if they are willing to do this. If neither option works, then allow the responsible party to keep it and work on changing your domain name over to a new one you prefer instead.
Social Media: A New Target for Cybersquatters
Recently, several incidents of trademarked names being registered on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
For example, the company Coca-Cola attempted to acquire “cokecanpics” from a man who had purchased it through GoDaddy but was unable to transfer its control due to issues with Social Media’s policies which prohibit the transfer of accounts unless you are an authorised representative or can prove ownership through a trademark.
Since many companies have become well known on social media networks, this has allowed cybersquatters to target them since they know people will pay for these names if their company cannot purchase them first.
Social Media sites like Facebook offer several solutions that can be taken to prevent this from happening.
For example, you can create a custom URL for your fan page or business profile, resulting in the social media network not allowing cybersquatters to register similar names as yours since they are already tied up with it.
Steps to reduce cybersquatting on social media
- Be proactive and create a custom URL for your business profile or fan page as soon as possible.
- Create a social media strategy to protect the company’s name on multiple networks if it is well known.
- Register the domain name of your social media profile if you can; this will help prevent cybersquatters from using similar names that may relate to what you do on these sites like “Facebook help” or “twitterhelppage.”
Get in touch to discuss your cyber security concerns.
Shahrukh, is a passionate cyber security analyst and researcher who loves to write technical blogs on different cyber security topics. He holds a Masters degree in Information Security, an OSCP and has a strong technical skillset in offensive security.