It’s not always easy to find the right domain name for your website. If you’re a company, or a brand, or even a club for that matter, you want a domain name that’s close to your company name. For example, if you’re running a taxi company called Joe’s Taxis, then your ideal domain name would probably be:
But what if when you’re looking for your domain, you find that someone has already registered it? If you suspect that they have registered it for financial gain at your expense, then you’re having an encounter with a ‘Cyber Squatter’.
Cyber squatting is the registering of domain names that would otherwise be used by companies or brands, that are a close match to that company’s name or brand. Cyber Squatters do this for financial gain. They can make money by placing adverts on the domain name’s website, or by directing visitors to that domain name towards a competitor website of the brand owner – for money of course!
There have been some high profile cases of cyber squatting over the years. Most recently, when Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, cyber squatters quickly moved in and registered the domain bankofamericamerrilllynch.com before either bank could do so.
The domain name registries – the organisations that administer domain names – have policies in place to make sure that brand owners can legally recover their brand’s domain names. If brand owners can prove that the domain name has been registered by someone else in order for that person to gain financially from the brand value of that domain name, then they are legally able to recover it. However, the domain reconciliation processes take time and costs money. And due to the sheer number of ways you can write a domain name, and the number of domain extensions available (.com, .net, .org,. info, .biz, .me.uk; there are around 40 major ones), this can be a costly process for any brand owner.
The bad news is that Cyber squatting is on the up. As reported on the BBC, cyber-squatting went up last year by 18%. There were apparently 1,722,133 reported incidents. And the bad news for brand owners is that the study – by brand specialists MarkMonitor – also found that 80% of websites identified 12 months previously as “abusive” were still in existence today
Whilst this probably reflects poorly on the domain ownership resolution process of the registries, it also indicates that brands should get a lot tougher against people who are abusing their brand by buying and developing domain names that trade on their brand name.
And with so many ongoing cases – which are on the increase – it also shows that cyber squatting is obviously a lucrative business for those involved.
So what should you do if you are the victim of Cyber Squatting? Your first and best bet is to contact the current owner of the domain name and to politely ask them if they would sell you the domain name. If they don’t want to, or agree but want to charge more than a nominal fee (say £50), then you need to contact the relevant domain name registry and follow their domain ownership dispute process. The registry for .uk domain names is called Nominet, and here’s a link to their domain name ownership dispute forms.
Have any of you website builders been victims of cyber squatting? Or have you cheekily bought a domain name that you knew was benefiting from someone else’s brand equity? Leave us a comment below.