Who’s That Squatting on My Domain?

In the world of the internet, there are a lot of strange new ideas and words.  If you have taken that step of setting up your own web page, you already know what a “domain” is.  Basically a domain is that phrase used to find you on the internet.  For example, if you set up a web page to see your modern art, you can create a name like, joesmodernart.com and people can find you on the internet that way.  So in this example, joesmodernart.com is your “domain name”.

For the internet to work, though, only one person or business can have joesmodernart.com for their domain name.  That unique name is like your phone number online.  Anyone, anywhere in the world that goes to their browser and keys in www.joesmodern.art.com will find your site on the internet.  So to keep things orderly, domain names are sold on a first come first serve basis.

But the problem comes when someone learns to abuse the system.  The internet and setting up web pages has become big business.  So, as with any situation where there is money to be made or a crime to be committed, the internet has attracted it’s share of criminals and people who want to take advantage of honest people.

In the case of domain names, the crime that has causes endless grief for legitimate web site owners is called “cyber squatting”.  Cyber squatters take advantage of the fact that there are ways to “steal” someone’s domain name.  The idea is to hijack someone’s domain name so they have to buy it back from the squatter.  That approach is similar to a hostage situation.  There are many variations on the cyber squatter formula for stealing commerce from good honest internet businesses including…

*    Setting up a parallel business so people think they are buying from a trusted company but they are actually giving money to a criminal operation who will not honor the purchase.
*    Setting up an alternate business to hurt the original owner of the domain.  For example, if someone is disgruntled at their local bank because they got turned down for a loan, if they can cyber squat on the bank’s domain name, they can create an “I hate XYZ bank” web site to hurt the bank’s credibility with their good customers.
*    Jumping in during the short period of time when the domain name needs to be renewed and gaining ownership over it.  Domain names are generally for a specified period of time of a year, three years, etc.  So if you don’t pay your renewal, that name can become the property of someone else.  If a cyber squatter steals that name away during the renewal period, they can hold you hostage to get that valuable name back.

There are even notable cases where criminals divert traffic to pornography sites by cyber squatting on a legitimate business site.  Another clever ploy of cyber squatters is to purchase your exact same domain name with a different extension.  So if you own joesmodernart.com, a cyber squatter might buy joesmodernart.net, joesmodernart.biz, joesmodernart.gov and any of the other popular extensions.  By building a site out there under your domain name with an alternate extension, they can draw traffic to that bogus site and hijack your visitors, the traffic you would be getting and maybe even the revenue from sales that you can expect because your web site is well known for quality goods or services.

This problem has become so wide spread that congress has stepped in and put some laws on the books to help out legitimate web site owners.  The strongest law on the books is called the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act or the ACPA for short.  This law gives you some muscle you can use to bring a lawsuit against anyone who is using cyber squatting to hijack all the hard work you have put in to build that web site.

You will need some legal help to take this law and use it to protect your rights.  But like anything else, your domain name and your cyberspace “property” has a value to you.  So if someone is using some internet trickery to “squat” on your domain name, it is worth your while to defend it.

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