Domain squatting has been around since the early days of the internet. In fact, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), it was one of the first types of online abuse to be reported. And while there have been many cases fought in court over the years, it can be difficult to win these cases because they often hinge on complex legal arguments about trademark law.
To help you better understand domain squatting and what you can do to protect your brand, we will first examine some statistics about this type of cybercrime. Then we will discuss what constitutes domain squatting and why it is such a big problem for large and small businesses.
Finally, we will provide tips on avoiding becoming a victim yourself and what actions you can take if you find that someone has already squatted on your domain.
What is Domain Squatting?
Domain squatting, also known as cybersquatting, is the act of registering a domain name with the sole intention of selling it to the rightful owner at an inflated price. This type of cybercrime has been around since the early days of the internet and shows no signs of slowing down.
A recent report from WIPO found that 3,076 domain name disputes were filed in 2021, which is a 5% increase from 2020. And while many of these cases are resolved through mediation or arbitration, plenty still end up in court. The problem with domain squatting is that it can be challenging to prove trademark infringement in court. This is because domain squatters will often register domains similar to well-known brands but not identical.
For example, a domain squatter might register the domain name paypalsucks.com to sell it to PayPal for a high price. While this domain targets PayPal, it is not an infringement on their trademark because it is not an identical match. Domain squatters will also try registering domain names similar to popular keywords or phrases to drive traffic to their websites. For instance, they might register the domain name Tisla.com to get people who mistype Tesla.com into their browser.
While these domain names are not necessarily illegal, they can still cause serious business problems. This is because domain squatters can use these domain names to redirect traffic away from your website and to their own, which can lead to lost sales and customers.
Why is Domain Squatting a Problem?
Domain squatting is a big problem for businesses because it can lead to lost sales and customers. It can also damage your brand reputation if people are redirected to a squatter's website that contains malicious content or tools.
In some cases, domain squatters will also register domain names that are similar to your brand but with typos. For example, they might register googgle.com instead of google.com. When people mistype your domain name into their browser, they will be taken to the squatter's website instead of yours.
This can be a significant problem, leading to lost traffic and customers. It can also damage your reputation if people associate your brand with a squatter's website containing malicious content or tools.
Types of Domain Squatting
There are a few different types of domain squatting, each with its own risks.
Typosquatting is when a domain squatter registers a domain name similar to a well-known brand but with a typographical error. For example, they might register goggle.com instead of google.com.
The reason domain squatters do this is because they know that people will often mistype a domain name in their browser. When this happens, the person will be taken to the squatter's website instead of the intended website.
Squatters may harm your company's reputation by promoting their website on a popular business network, say, Facebook. This might result in decreased traffic and clients for the target firm. It is also possible that if the squatter's site includes harmful material or tools, it will damage the company's reputation.
Domain kiting is when a domain squatter registers a domain name and then lets it expire. They will then register the domain again, letting it expire once more. This process is repeated over and over, with the domain squatter only paying the registration fee for a short period of time.
The reason domain squatters do this is because it allows them to keep a domain name registered in their name without having to pay the full registration fee.
This can be a problem for businesses because it prevents them from registering the domain name themselves.
Cybersquatting is when a domain squatter registers a domain name that is similar to a well-known brand or trademark. For example, they might register the domain name teslacars.com.
The reason domain squatters do this is because they know that the company will likely want to buy the domain from them for a high price.
How to Protect Your Brand or Business from Domain Squatting
It is imperative you protect your brand or business from domain squatting. So, here are a few critical steps you can take to protect your brand or business from domain squatters.
Register Your Domain Name as Soon as Possible
As soon as you have decided on a domain name for your brand or business, register it. The sooner you register your domain name, the better chance you have of preventing domain squatters from registering it first.
In fact, it is common practice to purchase a domain name before you launch a brand or business. This way, domain squatters are less likely to register your domain name before you can.
Register Similar Names and Typos of Your Brand or Business
In addition to registering your domain name, it is also a good idea to register similar domain names and typos. This way, domain squatters will not be able to register these domain names and use them to take advantage of your brand or business.
For example, if your domain name is MyDomain.com, you would want to register common typos like MyDomian.com and MyDomaim.com.
Many prominent brands such as Google and Facebook have taken this domain name protection measure. They have registered domain names with common typos of their brands to prevent domain squatters from registering them and taking advantage of their brands.
Secure Your Domain Name with Different Extensions
Domain name extensions, also known as top-level domains(TLDs), are the letters at the end of a domain name, such as .com, .net, and .inc.
When you register a domain name, you can choose from different TLDs. In addition to the most popular TLDs, new domain name extensions, such as .blog, .io, and .ai, have been released in recent years.
It is a good idea to secure your domain name with different TLDs to prevent domain squatters from registering. For example, if your domain name is FastCarBlog.com, you would also want to register FastCarBlog.inc and FastCarBlog.io.
You can easily register different domain name extensions using a domain name registrar.
Monitor Domain Name Registrations for Your Brand or Business
Monitoring domain name registrations for your brand or business is also essential. This way, you can quickly identify and take action against domain squatters who register domain names similar to your brand or business.
There are a few different ways you can monitor domain name registrations. For example, you can use a domain name monitoring service or manually search domain name registrars to see if any domain names that are similar to your brand or business have been registered.
Purchase Domain Name Protection Services
Domain name protection services can also help you protect your brand or business from domain squatters. These services typically offer domain name monitoring, domain name blocking, and domain name recovery services.
Some domain name protection services will even help you recover a domain name that has been squatted.
Register a Trademark for Your Brand or Business
If you have a registered trademark for your brand or business, you can take legal action against domain squatters registering domain names that infringe on your trademark.
To register a trademark, you must file a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office or a similar office in your country. Additionally, working with an experienced trademark attorney can help you navigate the process and give you the best chance of success.
What Can You Do If a Domain Squatter Takes Your Domain Name?
If a domain squatter takes your domain name, there are a few different options you can pursue.
Sending a Cease-and-Desist Letter
One option is to send the domain squatter a cease-and-desist letter. This formal letter demands the domain squatter stop using your domain name. The cease-and-desist letter should be sent by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of your brand or business. Additionally, the letter should include the following:
- Your brand or business name.
- The domain name in question.
- An explanation of how the domain squatter is infringing on your rights.
- A demand that the domain squatter stops using the domain name.
- You can take legal action if the domain squatter does not comply with the cease-and-desist letter.
Filing a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy(UDRP) Complaint
If the domain name in question is a .com domain name, you can file a dispute under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy(UDRP). The UDRP is a policy created by ICANN, the organization that oversees domain names.
To file a UDRP complaint, you must prove all of the following:
- The domain name is identical or confusingly similar to your trademark.
- The domain squatter has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name.
- The domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.
If you win the UDRP complaint, the domain squatter will lose the domain name. Additionally, the domain name will be transferred to you.
Filing a Lawsuit
Another option is to file a lawsuit against the domain squatter. However, this option is typically more expensive and time-consuming than other options. Additionally, it is essential to note that filing a lawsuit does not guarantee that you will win or get the domain name back.
Before filing a lawsuit, you should consult with an experienced trademark attorney to discuss your specific situation and whether filing a lawsuit is the best option for you.
The Bottom Line
Domain squatting is a problem that can have severe consequences for businesses. Therefore, it's essential to be aware of the signs of domain squatting and take steps to protect your brand and domain name. If you're ever in a situation where you believe someone is domain squatting on your trademarked domain name, it's crucial to act quickly to protect your rights.