Cyber Squatting and Domain Name Disputes
A reasonably common problem occurs when someone else has purchased a web address ("domain name") that closely matches your or your organisation's name.
Approximately one case in every two thousand involves some form of 'cyber-squatting'. This occurs when the domain name has been bought by someone who does not appear to have a legal or historical tie to the disputed web address or to your or to your organisation's real-world name.
Many cases of apparent cyber-squatting are often harmless - for example two institutions with related real-world names but with unrelated business activities. Other cases of cyber-squatting are less harmless and may in fact involve the cyber-squatter trading on the brand awareness of a well known institution.
Resolving disputes for Top Level Domains
Top level domains include addresses ending with a ".com", ".net", ".org" or other high level non country specific domain name ending.
If you or your company believe that someone is guilty of cyber-squatting on a relevant top level domain, then you should be aware of ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”). Broadly, the UDRP outlines a five step process for the resolution of domain name complaints. The five steps are as follows:
- Register a complaint. If the complaint is deemed to be appropriate, an ICANN appointed Dispute Resolution Service Provider (“DRSP”) will examine the complaint. Within five days of receiving an appropriate complaint, the DRSP will acknowledge (to the complainant) the initiation of the UDRP complaint process.
- The DRSP will then contact the current owner of the domain name (or the defendant), who has twenty days to respond to the DRSP about the complaint.
- If the defendant does respond to the DRSP, then both the defendant and the complainant have the opportunity to make a further submission of evidence to the DRSP, before the complaint is addressed by a DRSP appointed, independent panel, such as the (American) National Arbitration Forum. Such panel's are granted the power (by ICANN) to make binding rulings about domain name ownership. (It is worth noting that the complainant must pay for the panel to be established. If the complainant is upheld, the costs of the panel may be shared with, or may be paid for entirely by the defendant.)
- If the defendant does not respond to the DRSP within the stated time period, the complainant may still pay for an independent panel to be established. Yet please note that non-response does not automatically lead to an adjudication (by the independent panel) in the complainant's favour. In addition, both the complainant and the defendant have the right to appeal against the independent panel's ruling.
- All adjudications are published by ICANN.
Resolving Disputes over UK Domain Names
If your domain name resides in the UK then Nominet's Dispute Resolution Service (“DRS”) may be able to help. The DRS outlines a six step process for domain name complaints. The six steps are broadly identical to those for ICANN's UDRP (see above). The key difference is that the DRS has an additional requirement for mediation between stages b. and c. Where applicable, Nominet suggest that mediation offers both complainants and defendants a fast and effective means of resolving domain name disputes.
Note that if legal processes are initiated about a domain name dispute, which is already being addressed through either the DRS or the UDRP, the DRS or the UDRP process (about that specific complaint) will be suspended.