Cheap domain names fuel cybersquatting

The buying and selling of site names for profits is growing in Asia, spurred by availability of cheap domain names--some as low as US$2 a year.
Written by Lynn Tan @ Redhat, Contributor

Instances of cybersquatting is growing in Asia, fueled largely by the availability of inexpensive Internet domain names, according to an Internet domain name registrar.

Janna Lam, managing director of Singapore-based IP Mirror, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview: "Cybersquatting has always been a [worldwide] trend and is now catching up in Asia... The main cause [for this growth] is the low prices of Internet domain names."

For example, China's ".cn" domains are now "selling so cheap" that it is encouraging the growth of cybersquatting, Lam said. In fact, IP Mirror currently acquires these site names from Chinese domain name registrar CNNIC.net.cn at such a low rate that the Singapore registrar is able to offer ".cn" site names for as low as S$3 (US$2) a year.

According to the U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), cybersquatting is defined as the "unauthorized registration or use of trademarks as Internet domain names, or other identifiers of online locations".

Lam said the phenomena of cybersquatting is global, and popular when it comes to top-level domain (TLD) extensions. "The more popular ones are gTLD (generic top-level domain)," she said. She added that there is increasing focus on country code top-level domain such as China's .cn, India's ".in" and Korea's ".kr".

"The cheaper the domain [name], the more active the cybersquatting activities," Lam said, noting that the perpetrators of cybersquatting have now earned a new moniker, "domainers".

"Domainers now are viewed more like merchants who buy and sell domains as part of their business," she explained. "Some even trademark the domain [name] so that it can be sold at a higher price."

"We know that [Singapore's central registry] SGNIC (Singapore Network Information Centre) does not encourage sale of domain names, and they do some monitoring of .sg domains. However, not all the registries in the world will be bothered to do likewise," she said.

Lam cautioned that to contain the problem of cybersquatting, Internet domain names should be monitored. "Unless [this] is done regularly, it does not really help to solve the problem," she added.

She noted: "[The] only way to combat cybersquatting is to actively protect domains which the businesses think are important to their business." These are predominantly associated with trademarks that the organization possesses, such as brand or product names.

Microsoft takes squatters to court
Last year, Microsoft filed three lawsuits in U.S. federal court against cybersquatters whom the software vendor said gained illegal profits from selling the domain names of thousands of Web sites, such as WindowsLiveTutorial.com and HaloChamp.com, associated with the company's products or brand.

Nancy Anderson, Microsoft's vice president and deputy counsel, told ZDNet Asia that the software giant has "brought 15 different legal actions targeting more than 1,500 infringing domain names", and most of these cases were "recent activity" filed over the last year.

"So far, we've had judgments that have involved more than US$5 million in judgment amount, and we've also settled cases to the tune of over US$1 million," Anderson said, in a phone interview.

Asked if regulations have been ineffective in containing the problem, Anderson said: "There've been many legal issues that have been around for a number of years, but you don't solve [these] overnight."

She noted that cybercriminal activities such as child exploitation and spamming, for instance, have been around for more than 10 years. "It's not just about legal enforcement, but also consumer education [as well as] technology developments to really address the problem."

Anderson added that it also takes "a concerted effort" to make progress in controlling the issue of cybersquatting.

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