Domain name disputes are at an all-time high – and are about to get worse – a UK legal expert is warning.
There were 3,000 cases of cybersquatting – registering a domain name relevant to another individual or company with the intention of profiting from it – globally last year.
This figure is up 70% on the previous year, with complaints involving UK companies also hitting a record high.
And current figures might only be the tip of the iceberg according to John Olsen, editor of a guide to domain name protection.
Mr Olsen, a partner at Edwards Wildman, is quoted in the Financial Times as saying: “These statistics show the tail-end of the increase in disputes caused by the previous changes in the web address system, when domains such as .biz, .info and .mobi were introduced.
“When domain names become effectively unlimited later this year, there is likely to be another sharp increase in the number of disputes as businesses stake their claims to new addresses.
“Website branding has become a hugely competitive area over the past few years, as companies do an increasing amount of their business online.
“Having the right domain name can be enormously valuable and the new domain system will exponentially increase the online branding possibilities for businesses.”
Why would anyone buy a domain name relevant to anyone else?
One of the principal reasons for cybersquatting is to hold another individual or company to ransom, selling them a domain name at huge profit because of its specific relevance and value to them.
Within ten minutes of the election of Pope Francis in March, over 100 Pope-related domain names had been registered – with one chancer trying to sell popefrancisbergoglio.net for upwards of £26,000.
In one of the most high-profile cases of cybersquatting, Microsoft won the battle for xboxone.com and xboxone.net this year after they were pilfered before the US software giants had a chance to register them.
Meanwhile in March the Body Shop, whose products are not on sale in China because of the country’s animal testing regulations, won a case against a Chinese cybersquatter who registered thebodyshop.ws and used it to sell similar products.
The number of Chinese domain name squatters has doubled since 2009, now accounting for 12% of global complaints, according to Mr Olsen. But the US still leads the way in cybersquatting.
Small businesses beware: other reasons for cybersquatting
It is not just big businesses that should beware of cybersquatters. Small business owners are massively in the firing line as well – for various reasons.
Firstly, ransom artists prey on smaller companies too so we’d advise registering all domain names that might be relevant to you and your company as quickly as possible.
These can include .com, .co.uk, .net, .biz addresses and many more – as well as various names that include minor variations, such as those containing hyphens.
So if you own mygreenpants.com, we’d recommend getting my-green-pants.com as well, for example. At time of writing both these domains were still available by the way so chop chop.
But being held to ransom is not the only danger. Porn sites, for example, commonly acquire variations of domain names so they can funnel traffic away and into their own site.
There are also countless cases of disgruntled clients or competitors who purchase similar-sounding domains to badmouth businesses they want to see struggle.
One of our clients has been suffering this pain for the last few weeks. Fortunately we are on top of the situation but it has been a tough few weeks for them as we have got to the bottom of it.
To regain control of a domain name, businesses must prove it is similar to a trademark they own, that they have the right to use it and that the owner registered it in bad faith.
See our blog if you’d like to find out more about the best way to manage your online reputation and stand up to the online bullies.
If you have any concerns relating to domain names or your online reputation feel free to give us a free, no-obligation call on 0207 100 4562 at any stage.