Cybersquatting profits from online brands

Cybersquatters who use popular names to make money out of companies or to drive traffic to their own sites are still a problem in the online world

When it comes to corporate branding, imitation is not considered the most sincere form of flattery -- especially when the purpose of the exercise may be to wrest dollars out of the brand's owner.

In the online world, problems associated with cybersquatting, including the practice of registering a domain name similar to that of an existing high-profile company for the apparent purpose of wresting a lucrative sum from that company, continue to reign. Despite an increasing level of regulation designed to combat this practice, companies are continuing to find their valuable brands compromised.

The most recent Australian victim is the Essendon Football Club, which found its Australian domain name, www.essendonfc.com.au, copied in the dot-com domain space, where it hosts a soft-porn site.

"Apparently this guy registered the domain and said 'do you want to buy it for such and such dollars'," Brad Paton, Internet developer for the Essendon Football Club told ZDNet Australia. The club declined because the cost to buy the dot-com domain was "a ridiculous amount".

"Also the club didn't want to be furthering the exploits of this guy when they think what he did was wrong," added Paton.

Intel found itself in a similar boat in 1999 when the Web site corresponding to its advertising campaign, www.intel-inside.com, was used to host porn in what appeared to be an attempt to coerce Intel to pay top dollar for the site. The Web site now hosts Intel content.

Other corporations rely on branding to promote their site, and disregard other sites completely. Australia's Ten television network runs the Web site www.ten.com.au, and claim to be unconcerned by a similar name in the dot-com space.

"All we promote is ten.com.au, that's our Web site," a Channel Ten spokesperson told ZDNet Australia. "Ten.com is a US Web site, and we have nothing to do with that."

This attitude would be welcomed at AusRegistry, who are planning a multi-million advertising campaign to promote the concept that if Net surfers are looking for an Australian company, they should be looking at the dot-au domain space.

Although the word "ten" is fairly generic, "essendonfc" is clearly not. Other corporate entities who have fallen victim to this practice include financial services company BT, which has the Web site www.btonline.com.au since www.bt.com.au was already taken, and currently redirects to pornharvester.com. The US government has even fallen victim to the ploy, with users who visit whitehouse.com instead of whitehouse.org being shown a porn site rather than the latest government policy.

For its part, Essendon Football Club is still reviewing what action they will take. "The main problem with the dispute resolution process with dot-com names is that the innocent party has to put up a significant amount of money, over $1,000, and then the onus is on us to prove that all the elements are there," said Paton.

He said that Essendon, should they opt to take on the dispute resolution process, was confident of winning, as they believed they satisfied the three elements required. These are that the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark of the company, the current owner has no rights or legitimate interests in respect to the name, and the domain name is being used in bad faith.

"Even if we win we don't get the money back," said Paton. "At this stage the question is whether we're willing to pay the money to get back what should be rightfully ours."

"I think it's not such a problem with dot-com dot-au domain space, but because the dot-com space is so unregulated it's like anything goes."


For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

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