What is Cybersquatting and How Do I Fight it?

Pinterest won $7.2 million in a case of against Chinese cybersquatter Qian Jin. There’s no doubt that the word cybersquatting sounds unsavory, but what does it mean and is it something that small businesses need to look out for?

Nolo Law explains that cybersquatting is, “registering, selling or using a domain name with the intent of profiting from someone else’s trademark.”

If that definition seems a little murky, Pinterest’s battle is a shining example for brands suffering from cybersquatters. Here’s an excerpt from the settlement documents:

“The defendant registered 100 domains that are every similar to Pinterest.com. Examples of similar domains include “Pinterests.com,” “Pimterests.com,” and “pinterost.com.”…Pinterest contends these domains directed web traffic away from pinterest.com, harming them financially.”

Qian Jin had planned to profit from these 100 domains in two ways. First, he turned the sites into dumping grounds for casino ads. When Internet users accidentally added an s to Pinterest or hit m instead of n they would end up on the trashy site pictured below.

casinoNext, he planned to sit back and wait for Pinterest to buy the domains off of him. Pinterest would find that no one actually wanted to go to “Pinterost.com” and would buy the name to set up redirects to their page. (To see this in action, type in Facebooks.com and you’ll get redirected to Facebook.com.)

Jin essentially registered and used the domains in hopes of benefiting from users trying to get to the Pinterest brand. Ladies and gentlemen: cybersquatting.

Pinterest won with arguments of trademark infringement and cyberpiracy – particularly under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). There were three main elements that Pinterest had to prove to find Jin in violation of the ACPA:

  1. Jin registered and used the 100 domain names (easy-peasy).
  2. The domains were confusingly similar to Pinterest’s brand (people might think Pinterests and Pinterest are the same thing).
  3. Jin intended to profit from the domains (see the casino picture above).

In the case of Pinterest v. Qian Jin, Jin didn’t stand much of a chance.

While cybersquatting might seem like a plague that only infects major brands, it can affect the local level as well – especially if they’re buying up less common, low-budget names. Cybersquatters could target elected officials and use the similar domains to attack the candidate.

For example, let’s say Rick Salt was running for mayor and using the domain RickSalt.com. A cybersquatter could buy RickSaltforMayor.com and sell merchandise opposing his campaign. The cybersquatters violate the ACPA by registering and using the domains in question, intentionally trying to confuse users, and trying to profit off of the confusion.

shutterstock_98775722Web domains are a major land grab for brands and organizations, and disputes over them are likely to become more common. As of this April, the Internet was home to more than 252 million domains and gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains like .cloud, .blog, and .google) could soon be released into the world. More registered domains and more brands rising to fame pave the way for cybersquatters to profit.

Inc. provided tips to prevent cybersquatters from going after your brand. Other than making sure your trademark and domains are registered, they recommend buying up a variety of your domain names and setting up redirects to your main site. Rick Salt could have avoided cybersquatting if he had bought RickSaltforMayor.com along with RickSalt.net, RickSalt.org, and even domains like RickSaltsucks.com. Your best bet is to have your bases covered by investing in names similar to your brand.

Have you ever been a victim of cybersquatting – or enjoyed the schadenfreude of watching someone else experience it?

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