Domain Name Disputes: the Wild West of the Internet.

Author: Jeremy Szwider

27/03/24 | Reading time: 3 minutes

In the vast expanse of the internet, domain names are like digital storefronts, essential for businesses and individuals to stake their claim online. However, amidst the plethora of legitimate domain registrations, a darker practice known as cybersquatting lurks. This phenomenon occurs when individuals register domain names in bad faith, aiming to profit from the reputation of established trade marks or businesses. Jeremy Szwider, an expert lawyer in the field, elaborates on these challenges and solutions.

Stand up, cybersquatters

Imagine this scenario: a company invests significant resources in building its brand, only to find that a cybersquatter has snatched up the corresponding domain name. The consequences are twofold. Firstly, there’s the financial burden of potentially having to buy back the domain name at inflated prices. Secondly, there’s the risk to the company’s reputation, as unsuspecting customers may stumble upon the cybersquatter’s site, mistakenly associating it with the legitimate brand.

Jeremy Szwider points out that  there are practical challenges with enforcing legal rights against the cybersquatter if their identity is unknown (which commonly occurs, especially if they use privacy or proxy services) or if they’re located in another country.

Fortunately, there’s hope for those caught in the Wild West of cybersquatting: the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO administers the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), providing a swift and cost-effective alternative to traditional legal proceedings. The UDRP is like a referee in the Wild West of the internet. When there’s a dispute over a domain name, WIPO can step in to help settle things fairly and efficiently.

If the person complaining wins, they can either get the domain name transferred to them or have it cancelled altogether.

Pathway to resolution

So, what qualifies as a domain name dispute under the UDRP? 3 key criteria must be met:

  1. The domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trade mark held by the complainant.
  2. The registrant has no legitimate interest in the domain name.
  3. The domain name is being used in bad faith.

Examples of bad faith are:

  • domain names registered for the purpose of selling the domain name to the trade mark owner for an inflated price;
  • registering a domain name in order to prevent the trade mark owner from using the domain;
  • registering the domain name in order to disrupt a competitor’s business; and
  • using the domain name for financial gain as a result of the confusion by internet users as to the association with the domain name with the trade mark owner; and
  • selling their own goods and services or promoting the goods and services of other competitors for a fee. Often, cybersquatters use something called a ‘parking page.’ This is a webpage where links to competitors are automatically shown. When someone clicks on these links, the cybersquatter gets a small fee.

These examples are not exhaustive and other circumstances may constitute the use of a domain name in bad faith.

How wild is the Wild West?

It’s crucial for businesses to understand that they need not succumb to the demands of cybersquatters. WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center offers a streamlined path to resolution, sparing parties the expenses and uncertainties of traditional litigation. However, prevention is undeniably the best strategy. By implementing robust Intellectual Property Management policies and diligently maintaining Intellectual Property portfolios, businesses can fortify themselves against potential cybersquatting threats.

Just like a gunfight in the Wild West, Jeremy Szwider emphasizes that cybersquatting can cause serious damage – commercial and reputational. While cybersquatting poses real challenges to businesses and trademark owners, WIPO stands as a steadfast ally, offering a clear pathway to resolution in the complex world of domain name disputes.