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Cybersquatting And Typosquatting - What Are They?

Mar 27, 2008
Unethical activities are nothing new online. From the early days of 'Black Hat' search engine optimization techniques like keyword stuffing and white on white text, through search engine results scraping for content, email spamming and modern phishing scams, the web has seen more than its share of dubious activities by those looking to get rich really fast.

The strange thing about these activities is this: while most people see techniques like spamming and gaming the search engine results as repugnant, even when they are not technically illegal, there is a group of webmasters and developers who see nothing wrong with any of it, and actually admire those (the tiny minority of ruthless operators) who succeed in making money this way.

This ambiguity is obvious in the media coverage of cybersquatting and typosquatting, mainly directed at webmasters and internet entrepreneurs, and written by those who follow and participate in the domain name industry.

To the ordinary web user, who mistakenly types google.cm in their web browser, and gets redirected to a social bookmarking site which is likely to be of no interest, the process is simply puzzling and annoying. To those domain investors who see how someone took advantage of the country domain suffix of Cameroon (.cm), and the popularity of the Google search engine, to exploit a common typo, the process is clever and admirable.

Other typosquatters have taken advantage of yahoo.cm, while facebook.cm is stuffed with pay-per-click listings. You might want to amuse yourself to see if any of your favorite .com sites are still available as .cm versions. Domain investors are now investigating the potential of the suffixes for the countries Colombia (.co) and Oman (.om).

If that is typosquatting, what is cybersquatting?

This is a much nastier enterprise, which attempts to take advantage of well known and well branded companies or products. Registering a domain name similar to a trademark, or a name a user would expect the company to use, the squatter hopes that the domain will be valuable enough to be onsold to the company for a lot more than the trivial cost of registering it.

An example would be the real case of the person who registered americanexpress.net, with no connection to the credit card company you would expect to own that domain. Another example would be the case of the original registrant of the peta.org name, which he used to sell meat and leather goods. Hertz, Panasonic and Avon have been the victims of similar scams.

In effect, the cybersquatter holds the domain name hostage, hoping the relevant company or organization will pay up, to regain control of this version of their trademark. Cybersquatters can also use the traffic from confused users to sell their own products or advertising space, or simply redirect the traffic to another site of their own.

Cybersquatters have also been known to watch the lists of recently expired domains, hoping that popular names which have inadvertently been allowed to lapse become available: the name can then be sold back at a premium price to the legitimate owner.

ICANN, the organization which controls the assignment of IP addresses and domain names, takes the view that those who knowingly and in bad faith register a domain name because it is similar to a trademark, with the intention of tricking internet users, is a cybersquatter, and should be prosecuted.

The result is that lawyers are having a field day in this new arena, and the court cases almost invariably end up in victory for the trademark owners. Feel you have found a great unregistered name, related to a well-known company, and want to register it? Unless you have great faith in your attorney, don't even think about it.
About the Author
Read more by Dee Buteland about registering domain names and all about free domain names at buteland.com.
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