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Cybersquatting out of business

Cybersquatting out of business

Have you ever gone to what you thought was the web address of a successful company only to find that the address "was under construction" or held by a company you have never heard of with a name suspiciously similar to your intended target? By enacting the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA"), the federal government has taken a huge step in stopping what consumers find a nuisance and legitimate companies consider the theft and ransom of their own well cultured name: cybersquatting.

"Cybersquatting" is a term describing a number of ways in which the .com names of established companies have been registered, used or misappropriated by others. In the late 90’s frenzy to have a web presence, many for-profit companies who entered the fray late discovered that variations of their name with the .com and .net tags have already been registered. The prior registrants far too often turn out to be individuals or small companies who have taken to the cottage speculation industry of registering domain names and holding them out to the highest bidder.

Faced with the dilemma of "paying the ransom", companies have taken different routes to resolution. Some have chosen to pay, others have settled on less desirable variations of their names, and still others have chosen to fight. For those that fought prior to the enactment of the ACPA, they found the existing federal trademark and copyright laws not entirely helpful for resolving disputes.

The ACPA makes acquiring that perfect domain name possible for legitimate companies against anyone who has a "bad faith intent to profit from" the name and "traffics in or uses a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar". Remedies available to those who are the victims of cybersquatting include, damages, treble damages, costs, attorney’s fees and statutory damages, depending on the circumstances of each case. Injunctive relief through the courts is also available to cancel or transfer domain names. Additionally, if you are unable to find the cyber pirate, a process has been created to take legal action and recover your name in their absence. This is a useful and necessary tool in the faceless world of cyberspace.

The best course of action for those who value their business name and are committed to a web presence is to, if possible, register all business and domain names used as trademarks or service marks with the Patent and Trademark Office. Simultaneously, document and archive your use of those names referencing the date and the manner in which it was used. Further steps could be taken to investigate domain names similar to your business or domain names. Such prudent measures may produce information allowing you to act in pre-empting any damage to the name of your business.

The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act provides new remedies for business under certain circumstances, but can not take the place of prudent management and planning. The protection of a company’s investment in its very name should be a segment of a comprehensive plan or periodic review.

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