Cyber-Squattering was my Dream Job…

May 15, 2006

 

Back in 2002, I heard of the term “cyber-squatting” for the first time. I asked myself, “Why didn’t I think of this brilliant get-rich-quick plan?” By then it was too late. I should have done it much earlier when the internet was just getting popular (early 1990s probably) and many businesses weren’t aware of its commercial potential.

Cyber-squatting refers to the act of reserving a particular internet domain name for the purpose of selling it at a higher price later. Cyber-squatters, also known as cyber-pirates, typically target companies, celebrities and even politicians. Beside financial gains, these “entrepreneurial souls” also divert consumers from the trademark owner's website.

Here’s an example. Say in the early 1990s, I get a dog and name her “Pepsi”, register a site, “pepsi.com”, for my dear pet before the Pepsi-Cola Company does, and presto! I’m not too greedy, just a million or two (US dollar) would be enough to help me deal with the emotional distress of giving up the site of my beloved pet to the big Cola company . Hell, I’ll even throw in the dog…

Actually I don’t even need a real reason to register a domain name, it just look more legitimate this way. It’s essentially a minimal investment, maximum return scheme… I mean “business strategy.” There had been some successful attempts. It is reported that Gateway Computer Co. paid $100,000 for the domain name gateway20000.com, a site where the owner of the domain name had posted pornographic images (also check out this report).

Opportunities for cyber-squatters are rapidly diminishing with internet governance and corporate awareness of such practice. However, examples can still be found – check out www.americanidol.ca, which clearly states “This domain may be for sale by its owner!”

The resolution process for disputes was determined by US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN, a non-profit corporation working on behalf of the US Government, certifies registrars of top-level domain names (i.e., .com, .net, .org), allocates IP address space and manages the root server system. Its Australian equivalent is the Australian Domain Name Authority (auDA).

In November 1999, the U.S. Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). This is the second option for trademark owners to seek redress. Under this Act, trademark owners can seek not only transfer of the disputed domain, but also monetary damages against an individual who registers the domain name containing the trademark. However, this option will incur the expense and aggravation of a lawsuit.

These developments thereby ended my potential career as a “low-life, high-tech” con-artist. Spoilers…

 

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