What’s in a name, asks the adage. But domain names have a lot riding on them, and cyber-squatting does not seem to be dying down
Cyber-squatting, or the usurping of domain names not claimed by reputed companies, has plagued a number of organisations—both domestic and international—in the past.
Cyber-squatting is an illegal activity of buying and officially recording an address on the Internet—which is the name of an existing company or a well-known person—with the intention of selling it to the owner in order to make money.
Reputed brands like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have had to go all the way to the United Nations body World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to win the rights to the use of URL bbcnews.com—way back in 2000—when that site was being squatted upon by US-based Data Art Corporation. The BBC subsequently won the case. This is but one example of a number of cases where cyber-squatters have been evicted, when they were found to be encroaching upon famous brand entities.
India has had its own share of cases of cyber-squatting. In September 2009, WIPO ruled in favour of Tata Sons which made Gurgaon-based travel portal MakeMyTrip to transfer the domain oktatabyebye.com to Tata Sons. Again in October 2009, Kotak Mahindra Bank won a cyber-squatting case at the WIPO against a South Korean, who was using the name ‘Kotak’ in an Internet domain.
The cases of cyber-squatting are not just limited to companies; NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt has had to grapple with a case of cyber-squatting too. In 2009, Ms Dutt filed a complaint that a Hyderabad-based cyber-squatter—easyticket—had been using a domain name ‘barkhadutt.com’, which was registered on 8 January 2007.
The latest case is of Panasonic India’s travails. The Indian domain name of Panasonic, www.panasonic.in, has been registered in the name of a certain ‘James Bond’, a resident of Taiwan. With Kochhar & Co’s intellectual property partner, Rodney Ryder, Panasonic approached the arbitral tribunal at the ‘.IN Registry’.
The .IN Registry is a non-profit company created by the National Internet eXchange of India (NIXI) in a move to evict cyber-squatters from using domain names for personal or commercial purposes. It is also responsible for the implementation of the various policies of the department of information technology of the Indian government.
Allegations by trademark holders of various cyber-squatting cases continued to rise in 2008, with a record 2,329 complaints filed under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), representing an 8% increase over 2007. UDRP is a quick and cost-effective dispute resolution procedure administered by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre.
The reason most cyber-squatters do what they do, is because they can get money from the celebrity or company for giving up the domain name. The George W Bush Library Foundation was forced to cough up $35,000 for retrieving its domain name. A small internet company had bought www.georgewbushlibrary.com for less than $10 and then subsequently sold it back it to the library.
“People cyber-squat because they try to get hold of domains that other persons or companies want, with the intent of selling it to that organisation or person at a premium,” a top IT expert said.
Now squatters are trying to pull off another stunt. They have now started typo-squatting. Here they register a domain name that is very similar to the original one. If a surfer makes a typing mistake, he’ll enter a fake domain.