Cybersquatting or domain squatting is the act of registering, buying or using an already registered domain name or a domain name that is likely to be wanted in near future with an intention to wrongfully profit from the reputation and goodwill of the trademarked property which the cybersquatter later intends to sell to the rightful owner at an inflated price or premium.
Indian courts have often defined cybersquatting as “an act of obtaining fraudulent registration with an intent to sell the domain name to the lawful owner of the name at a premium”.
What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is an identification string that represents an Internet Protocol(IP) resource in an easily recognizable form. An IP address is nothing but a set of numerical instructions that use Internet Protocol to communicate over the Internet in a way that is useful to the computer. The Domain Name is a link to the IP address and helps the computer locate the place where the IP address information exists. It is a part of the URL and directs the server as to where to forward a request for a Web page.
The Domain names are categorized in certain sub-domains. The first-level of domain names also called as the top-level domains or TLDs include Generic TLDs that define a general category (such as .com, .org, .net, .biz, .info etc.) and Country Code TLDs that use two-character territory codes of ISO-3166 country abbreviations (such as .in, .fr, .np etc.). Below the Top-level domain names fall the second and third level domain names which can be reserved by the end-users to connect LANs to the internet or run websites. Second-level domain names are often created in relation to the company name, product or service. Below these levels, the next domain name component are used to designate a particular host server.
The first commercial Internet domain name, in the TLD.com, was registered on 15 March 1985 in the name symbolics.com by Symbolics Inc., a computer systems firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the first quarter of 2015, 294 million domain names had been registered.
Cybersquatting originally emerged during the early period of web commercialization when most businesses were still getting used to the new trend. Taking advantage of the situation, some IT literate individuals registered domain names by the names of well-known companies such as Panasonic, Fry’s Electronics, Hertz and Avon with the intention of selling the names back to the companies.
An increase in the number of available domains over the years has increased the chances of a trademarked property becoming a victim of cybersquatting but what keeps this at bay is the growing awareness of businesses about such practices, their rights and provisions in the law to protect them.
Even though Cybersquatting is possible in many ways, Typo squatting is the most popular form of cybersquatting wherein the offender relies on the common typographical errors made by users while entering domain names into the browsers. By doing this they intend to redirect traffic to their site instead of the actual site.
Litigation in favour of anti-cybersquatting took place for the first time in 1994 and soon after saw a swarm of cybersquatting cases being registered by big companies such as Volkswagen, Hasbro, Shell and Intel. It was then that domain names were seen for the first time as a means of identity and brand for a company thereby warrantying greater protection.
The issue that persisted however, was that of management. Since the internet allows the same access throughout the globe, it was impossible to protect a domain name under national laws alone and therefore required a central authority that would protect such cases.
Some countries have specific laws against cybersquatting beyond the basic trademark law. The United States, for example, has the U.S. Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) of 1999 that provides protection against cybersquatting for individuals as well as owners of distinctive trademarked names.
Since 1999, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), has provided an arbitration system wherein a trademark holder can attempt to claim a squatted site. In 2006, there were 1823 complaints filed with WIPO, which was a 25% increase over the 2005 rate. In 2007 it was stated that 84% of claims made since 1999 were decided in the complaining party’s favor.
In India, victims of cybersquatting have been provided with a number of ways to deal with it, such as:
- Sending cease-and-desist notice to the offender or squatter.
- Opting for arbitration under ICANN’s rules,
- Going for a trial to a state or federal court.
- Filing a case with the National Internet Exchange of India (NiXI).
- Applying to The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Centre
Some of the famous Cyber Squatting cases include:
- Yahoo! Inc. v. Akash Arora
Being the first cybersquatting case to be registered in India it received national attention. Akash Arora who started offering web-based services similar to those offered by Yahoo.com under the name of Yahoo India was sued by Yahoo Inc for using a trademark deceptively similar to its own and passing off his services as those offered by Yahoo Inc. The court held Akash liable for passing off and restrained him from using the domain name.
- Tata Sons Ltd Vs. Ramadasoft
Ramadasoft, a Hyderabad based software firm had a domain name registered in the name of Tata and the domain names not only involved addresses but also the trademarks of the companies. It was ascertained that the defendant had used the names with mala Fide intention and were held liable by the court and an order of permanent injuction is passed against Ramadasoft restraining it for operating any business in any goods or services under any domain names containing the word Tata
- Microsoft vs MikeRoweSoft
The legal dispute between Microsoft and a Canadian high schooler named Mike Rowe over the domain name “MikeRoweSoft.com” which was Rowe’s part-time web design business and received support from online community ended with Rowe granting ownership of the domain to Microsoft in exchange for an Xbox and additional compensation.