Domain Name Cybersquatting – Could It Ruin Your Business?

There have been several high profile cases of cybersquatting in the press over the past few years, whereby trademarked companies and public figures have found themselves victims of other people registering their trademark as a domain name then either taking some of that business’s website traffic, or holding the domain name ‘hostage’ and demanding money. Read on for more information about the history of cybersquatting, some of the most high profile cases, and what you can do to protect your domain name.

What is cybersquatting?

Cybersquatting – also known as domain squatting – is the name given to the practice of registering and potentially using a domain name which embodies or relates to someone else’s business name or trademark. This usually involves buying one or several domain names which use the name of an existing business, with one of three intentions: selling the domain name back to you at a profit, stealing your potential customer base, or misrepresenting your business in order to ruin your company’s reputation.

Typosquatting – the dangers

Typosquatting is when a cybersquatter registers a similar domain to that which your business uses, but containing a deliberate typo. Domain names containing deliberate typos pick up website traffic from mistyped URLs or search terms, again picking up some of your rightful customer base.

Previous victims of cybersquatters

High profile victims of cyber squatting include celebrities like David Cameron, who was allegedly targeted by the UKIP in October 2006, and the Duke and Duchess ofCambridge. Some cybersquatting is relatively harmless, with site being used for petty gossip and information about the public figure or organisation. Others can be embarrassing and even dangerous, such as those which contain pornographic imagery, or which target celebrities’ children.

A force for good

Cybersquatting can be used as a force for good; some child protection agencies request for popular underage sex keyword phrases to be registered as domain names so that they cannot be used by paedophiles. If paedophiles are forced to use domain names containing non-relevant keywords, it will reduce the chances of other paedophiles reaching the website.

What can I do if someone is squatting on my domain name?

It is now possible to bring legal action against cybersquatters, although this can be expensive and time consuming. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) means that owners of trademarked or registered names have legal rights to the matching/similar domain names. This is why it is important to have a registered trademark for your business, as this will allow you to claim against a squatter who ‘takes’ your name.

How can I protect myself from cybersquatters?

Much easier and less time consuming than taking out legal action is to safeguard yourself from cybersquatting in the first place. Buy up as many variations of your domain name as possible, to reduce the chances of a squatter being able to find a similar version; for example, if your main domain name is www.lotsofpaint.co.uk, also buy www.lots-of-paint.co.uk, www.lotsofpaints.co.uk etc. It only costs a few pounds a year per domain name, and is much cheaper than taking out legal action after the event of cybersquatting. Also consider buying different extensions of your domain name, so as well as .co.uk, also buy .com, .org etc. Again this reduces the cybersquatter’s available options.