Date Published: 2000-04-01
by Marnie Pehrson
All's fair in love and war - right? If this is true, then there are wars being waged every day in
cyberspace. There's been a lot of talk in Internet circles about Cybersquatting -- registering a domain name
like http://www.companyabc.com when another company claims the right to use the name. Many times people
register conflicting domains purely innocently -- not realizing someone else has a trademark on the name.
Other times, companies register domains intentionally to play off the popularity of other sites. For
example, a Greek book company registered www.amazon.com.gr to benefit from the popularity of
Amazon.com. As you might suspect, Amazon sued them over it.
But, a rarely discussed reason for cybersquatting on other people's territory is competition and revenge.
What better way to get back at an ex-partner or competitor than to register domains confusingly similar
to theirs? Or to register domains that mimic your competitor's trademark or given name?
You might wonder, ''Why in the world would someone risk a lawsuit for this type of competition or
revenge?'' Good question. Your guess is as good as the next person's. But it happens every day.
For example, one Webmaster I know, recently discovered that his former-partner and now arch-rival
registered my associate's given name as a domain!
But the battleground doesn't stop at cybersquatting, for many it extends into the practice of copying
your competitor's layout and design. Many webmasters find that they no sooner put a new feature on their
site than their competitor has added the same thing. Others discover that their entire layout and
design have been copied.
If you become embroiled in one of these battles, what can you do? The first step is to document
what has happened. For example, if someone is copying your site, get screen shots of your site and
theirs. You can do this using the Print Screen button on your keyboard and then using Edit and Paste to copy
the screen capture into a graphics program. Also keep hard copies of all correspondence -- email or
otherwise. Keep a log on what happens each step of the way, especially if the battle transforms from
competition to harassment. With your documentation in hand, you have two options.
Option 1: Fight it
File a complaint with Internic at
ICANN at http://www.icann.com/. Internet Corp.
For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit group charged with overhauling some of the
Internet's key management issues. They recently approved a procedure for handling disputes over top-level
domain names -- Internet addresses ending with .org, .net, and .com. If you have proof, you can also
notify their hosting provider. Many hosting providers have rules about these types of actions.
Have your lawyer draft and send a letter insisting that the other party cease and desist use of
your trademarked or copyrighted material or domain. Many people will back down when they receive a
lawyer's letter. But if they are prepared for serious battle, they most likely were expecting you
to do this and are ready to dig in their heels.
It's a good idea to find a friend or relative who is a lawyer, because these things can get into
long expensive legal battles if one side doesn't back down. As you may surmise, many of those instigating
these domain wars are wealthy enough to afford lawyers and already have them on retainer or are married
to a lawyer, have a friend or family member who is a lawyer, or barter legal services for Web services or
Option 2: Ignore it
As my lawyer once told me, ''Nobody wins in these disputes -- except the lawyers.'' This brings us to
a final alternative -- ignore it, pity them. Dwell on the sad state of affairs it is when someone has
nothing better to do with their life and money than to spend $70/pop buying domains, not to mention the
legal expenses, just to tick other people off. Think of the toys they could buy for their children,
the food they could buy for their families, or the poor people they could feed with the money they waste
on purchasing domain names and fighting legal battles purely for spite! So the final alternative is to pity
them and count your blessings.
In the end, it's your call. Only you can decide whether it's best for you to ignore it or dig in
and fight. But, no matter which option you choose, you can always take comfort in knowing that ''what
goes around comes around.''
by Marnie Pehrson