Cybersquatting is the act of registering or using a domain name to profit at the expense of someone else’s trademarked or copyrighted “brand” or “name.” It typically occurs when a malicious individual misspells a domain name to steal traffic intended for its legitimate counterpart. An example would be running a site named mike[.]com that mimics nike[.]com.
Cybersquatting also happens when a malicious individual grabs an expired domain name when its owner fails to re-register it. He can then sell it back to its original owner for a hefty sum.
Also known as “domain squatting,” cybersquatting is a cybercrime.
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Notable Cybersquatting Victims over the Years
Today, it is not unusual to see website addresses that very closely resemble those of famous brands. Hijacking someone else’s domain name, as mentioned earlier, is a lucrative endeavor. Take a look at some notable cybersquatting victims below.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known worldwide for anti-fur activism and animal protection. In 1995, Michael Doughney discovered that the domain name peta[.]org was available for purchase. He registered it and used the website to sell leather goods and meat, calling it “People Eating Tasty Animals.”
That did not sit well with PETA, which sued Doughney for unfair competition, trademark infringement, and cybersquatting. While the court ruled in PETA’s favor, Doughney did not pay for damages because his act was not considered malicious.
At present, PETA now owns the .org site, which redirects visitors to its peta[.]com website.
In 2009, Jeremiah Tieman registered jenniferlopez[.]org and jenniferlopez[.]net as fan sites for the multitalented actress. These sites contained mostly ads and affiliate links that milked cash from die-hard Jennifer Lopez fans.
The incident, however, prompted Lopez to file a suit against Tieman to put an end to the sites’ operations. The court ruled in Lopez’s favor, turning the two websites to her foundation.
John Zuccarini is a popular cybersquatter who was penalized multiple times for registering typosquatted domains of child-friendly sites. What made Zuccarini infamous, though, was that aside from profiting from tons of candy and toy ads on his sites, he redirected unsuspecting children to porn sites. Victims who ended up on his typosquatted domains are often trapped and forced to click pop-up ads just to exit the sites.
For Zuccarini’s first run-in with authorities, he paid US$1.9 million. For his second case, he shelled out US$164,000.
Perhaps one of the still highly contested cybersquatting cases is that of Nissan. When you hear “Nissan,” you automatically think of the car company. It is pretty understandable since the company has been using the label since the 1970s.
Interestingly, though, automobile manufacturer Nissan does not own nissan[.]com. In 1994, Uzi Nissan, owner of Nissan Computer Corporation, decided to claim the domain, five years before the car company even thought of using the term as their brand.
Nissan contested that the domain name is a clear sign of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and cybersquatting. The case is tricky, though, because the owner’s name and corporation (which were both older than Nissan) is Nissan. He also had no intention to cybersquat. The result? Nissan[.]com remains with its original owner.
Now that you know the answer to “What is cybersquatting?” you see how it can be a big business for malicious individuals. Users and organizations need protection from it.