South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 13, No. 5, Pg. 20.
Virtual eviction: kick cybersquatters off your domain
20Virtual eviction: kick cybersquatters off your domainBy Stephen J. ShawJust as fast as the hot dot-coms became imploding dot-bombs, a new type of litigation arose to resolve disputes involving trademarks and domain names. If any of your clients are on the Internet (and these days, that's all of them), it is foreseeable that they will need protection from cybersquatters, reverse domain name hijackers, typosquatters or cyberpirates. While it sounds like a Hollywood movie, the reality is playing on a small screen near you - your computer.
126.96.36.199 or www.yahoo.com?
If you type 188.8.131.52 into your web browser instead of www.yahoo.com, you may be surprised to find that you still get to www.yahoo.com. A domain name, such as www.yahoo.com, is simply a placeholder. Each computer connected to the global network we refer to as the Internet is identified by a unique numeric address called an IP address.
Instead of typing in a long string of numbers, users type in the domain name of the site they wish to visit. The name is directed to one of many centralized computers on the Internet called a domain name server. The server consults its database to see which number matches up with the name and invisibly sends the user on his way to do legal research or perhaps day-trade away his life savings.
It didn't take long for entrepreneurs of varying stripes to figure out that domain names could be the gold rush of the 1990s. A 1999 study showed that some 93 percent of 25,500 standard English-language dictionary words have been registered as dot-coms. www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,19117,00.html. More troubling than the registering of dictionary words such as www.pets.com and www.tobacco.com was the "cybersquatters" phenomenon. A cybersquatter or cyberpirate generally refers to a person who registers a name which is identical or confusingly similar to a mark belonging to another, with a bad faith intent to profit from the mark.
The infamous cybersquatter, John Zuccarini, is estimated to have made anywhere between $800,000 and $1,000,000 annually from the thousands of domain names he registered, most of them misspellings of famous marks ("typosquatting"). See Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp. v. Zuccarini, 56 U.S.P.Q.2d 1705 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (awarding plaintiff $500,000 in statutory damages). On the flip side of the equation is the relatively new practice of reverse domain name hijacking, in which a mark ownerpursues legal and administrative remedies in a bad faith attempt to deprive...