‘Domain name trolls’ is a generic term for people or businesses that strategically register desirable domain names, which they don’t intend to use for legitimate purposes. This is known as ‘domain squatting’ or ‘cybersquatting’.
These could be:
- another business’ name or slogan which hasn’t yet been registered as a domain name by the business itself
- an existing domain name which is in use, but about to expire
- a variant of an existing business domain name – for example, differently spelled, misspelled, or separating words differently, eg using hyphens or dots
- breaking news – for example, the name of a new venture or brand announced by a major corporation
They can then:
- sell the domain name on to the most likely party (such as the business whose name or slogan it is) for a profit
- sell it to a competitor or someone else who might use it to harm your business, such as a disgruntled customer
- otherwise misuse the name – eg by using the site to show advertisements or sell their own products, setting it to redirect to another site, or even infecting users’ computers with malware when they mistakenly visit
How can I protect my business?
Although it is sharp practice, domain name trolling is not generally illegal. However, you may be rightly worried if someone is using your business’ name and goodwill to mislead customers and damage your reputation.
The best way to protect your business is to be proactive and register any domain names you want to use in good time.
For extra security, you could register variants of your domain name (such as .com as well as .co.uk), and associated phrases such as slogans, and set them up to redirect to your real website.
Be sure to manage your domain name registrations carefully, and renew them in good time before they expire.
What if a troll’s already registered my domain name?
If you do have trouble, you can look up who owns the domain name you want and contact them, offering to buy the domain. Nominet (the registrar for .co.uk domain names) also offers a mediation service in case of disputes.
This is a good first option, although it may not work if the owner is determined to be malicious.
You may also be able to prosecute if someone’s trying to infringe your trade mark, or if they’re using your business name ‘in bad faith’ (eg to fool customers by selling products similar to yours).