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Microsoft, the world's biggest software company, is launching a string of court actions in the United States and Europe against cybersquatters, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
"Cybersquatting is a growing problem for brands around the world and we hope to educate other brand holders and encourage them to take action," Aaron Kornblum, a senior Microsoft lawyer, told the business daily.
Microsoft has won two lawsuits in the United States since August which yielded three million dollars (2.3 million euros) worth of damages and the return of 409 domain names, it added.
To me, a full frontal attack on the parking firms and the feed providers, seems inevitable. After the 10,000th typo registration and parked domain PPC click I just have difficulty imagining that a jury would find the parties acted without knowledge or that they simply couldn't avoid the practice. I suspect the number of typo "tastes" and registrations likely runs closer to 7 figures than 5 figures. What juror wouldn't roll their eyes when a defendant professed innocence in a scenario of such scale. Defendant: "Well, we registered so many of them that we just couldn't keep track of them all!" Juror's mind: "Yeah. Right. Then you should have slowed down and watched where you were going."
It's mindboggling that those who are making money off domain parking would risk it all for the ill-gotten gains, which tells me that the ill-gotten typosquatting gains must be huge. Dollar signs that cause some to rationalize sharing in typosquatting profits may be the same dollar signs that excite a law firm to take on a case on a contingency basis.
I don't think it's a matter of if but when the "brand industry" forms a 'coalition of the willing' to attack the root of the typosquatting problems. They will go after the money source - the parking firms and the feed providers - that not only incentivizes but financially enables the practice. Joint venture? RICO? I'm not sure how the legal action will be framed but the long history of the feed providers profiting in the typosquatting practice suggests that their hands will be found to be dirty enough to make them accountable.
I really don't wish this on the industry, as I make coin on parking PPC of generic domains, but none of the players apparently think anyone is up to the challenge. That's a mistake. It might just be Microsoft that decides to attack this at the root. It might give Microsoft an easy way to target Google while it's at it, since Google provides the feeds that so many parking companies rely on.
At the very least this practice gives the domain parking industry a bad name and, for that reason alone, it should be stopped cold.
[edited by: Webwork at 11:30 pm (utc) on Mar. 14, 2007]
How about... if the domain name reflects someone else's trademark, then the domain owner is squatting. If the domain name reflects a misspelling or other close variation of another's trademark, that is squatting, too.
I can see that, that's is one side of the spectrum, but what if I own the domain to a generalized term of one of their products?
Back to Microsoft - what if I registered webprogrammingsoftware.com (as an example - not an actual site that I own) because I planned to open up an e-commerce site specalizing in web programming software?
Technically they could claim that it is cybersquatting (well, it would be if I demanded an insane amount of money that wasn't what the ecommerce site was worth) even though I am trying to start a legitemate company.
(BTW - I am not defending cybersquatters, they should be stopped, but I do have this awful habit to play the devil's advocate).
To me, a full frontal attack on the parking firms and the feed providers, seems inevitable.
I believe parking firms can successfully hide behind the provisions of safe harbor. I guess you already know that typical parking firms have several hundred thousand domains parked with them and you can't expect them to check the legal status of each of those domains.
Or ICCAN can put a limit on the number of domains one can own.
Who is ICANN to tell me how many domains or sites I can own? Last thing any sane business person will want is government messing with the growing business.
I'm a sole trader. One of the variations on the spelling of my domain name is parked by a cyber squatter, there can be no doubt as to the legality of my claim to the domain name, but I can not afford the thousands of dollars to pursue it through ICANN - and the cyber quatters know it!
[edited by: Webwork at 4:45 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]
[edit reason] Housecleaning [/edit]
It has been my experiences that large corporations don't care about collateral damage when it comes to things like this. They'd rather detonate a 100 megaton bomb on the whole industry and take out hundreds, maybe even thousands, of struggling start-up business owners (like myself) who are legitemately trying to supply a service or product and trying to make a living off of it.
Instead of going after the individual bad apples, they'll carpet bomb the whole orchid.
Some of my domains are general terms for an industry that has a lot of corruption (and my clients and I are trying to change things from the inside out). What's to stop an organization to get a high priced lawyer, where a defense would be way out of my price range, and gobble up the domain names that I've bought?
Yet the guy who owns the .com that I'd want (by the way, it's not a generalized term, a company name, nor would it be popular, a Google search for this only brings up a few dozen hits, 99% of which are either directly or indirectly me) wants $25,000 for the domain that's been parked w/ PPC for at least 4 years.
What it's coming down to is that how do I know that some large corporation won't come in and push their weight on me and take my business out from under me? There's a very large grey area in between cybersquatting and domain reselling (and if someone wants to help me on this, just send me a PM and I can give you some domains that I own), how do I know I am on the right side of this? No, I don't have mis-spelled major corporation domains, nor am I asking outrageous prices (the prices I have listed are guaranteed sells, but if anyone does contact me, I'd negotiate). Heck, I've even eaten the cost to register 5 or 6 domain names to help out a client with their web site (nothing with them yet, but it is in the works), like widgets.com, widget.com, mywidgets.com, bobswidgets.com, widgetsonline.com etc, and already have a written agreement that I will give them to him if he doesn't agree to go with my publishing.
It's not as simple as that - let's say I reg'd live.co.uk in 1998 and then suddenly MS bring out live.com - I was there first so is it them that's using my domain or the other way around? Do I have to give up my 9 year old site that makes me X $ per month?
If a domain is available to register then why can't I register it? They had the chance and surely ignorance is no excuse?
I know folk who have reg'd domains 'cos they like them, intend to develop or intend to sell but that ain't necessarily squatting. The only real definition of squatting is that someone won't sell for any price in my eyes. Perhaps there ought to be a few set rules - how long a site has been on that domain, how much $ it makes and so on. In the UK we have a dispute resolution system that is reasonable in that there's a committee formed to make a judgement.
Like I say, it's not as simple as some think.