Articles by Reesa Marchetti

Fighting Cybersquatters Close to Home

by Reesa Marchetti
© 2001 The Association of Educational Publishers

So-called "cybersquatters" can tarnish a trademark in no time. Just ask Helen Hegener, publisher of Home Education magazine. After 18 years as an established homeschool publication, Home Education allowed the registration for one of its domain names to lapse for fewer than 48 hours — and the URL became a link to a porn site.

"Pirating" domain names has become a common occurrence, says Mitch Stabbe, an attorney with the media law firm Dow, Lohnes & Albertson. Stabbe contributed to the Association of Educational Publishers Online Book "Web Publishing Law: A Primer," which includes explanations of the rules that ban domain-name theft. One recent law, the Anti-Cybersquatting Protection Act, prohibits "bad-faith" use or "trafficking" in domain names, he says.

According to Stabbe's experience, Home Education seems to have grounds for a case against the new owner of its domain name — a Webmaster from Armenia who offered the URL on the Web for a minimum bid of $500. The company fought back, as soon as the name takeover came to light, by notifying thousands of customers and organizations to discontinue linking to the old Web address. Users were advised to bookmark a more recent URL, home-ed-magazine.com, which has been the magazine's primary domain name since 1988.

But would it be useful to fight it out in court, or in a mandatory arbitration under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy? Maybe not, Stabbe says. True, trademark owners have won approximately 75 percent of the more than 2,000 UDRP cases that have been filed since the law took effect. But the effort involved and the filing fees — starting at $1,500 — may not be worth it for Home Education, especially if the company is satisfied that most users are linking to the correct address now. And yet more Web extensions (most recently, .biz and .info) are appearing all the time. "Domain name owners are struggling with whether it's worthwhile to register all of these names as a prophylactic measure," Stabbe says, "or to wait and see."

Another way to avoid such squabbles is to take a more proactive stance, Hegener advises. Don't rely on the registration company to warn you, she urges. "Cybersquatters can go to 'Whois' to find out who owns a domain name and when the registration will lapse," she says. "Get there first, to make sure your URL is still yours."

Click here for more information on "Web Publishing Law: A Primer," by Jon Hart, Esq., of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson.