Dealing with Cybersquatting Scoundrels

WWWThe world is full of awesome people, but has its share of jerks, too. Among the crustiest of the jerks are cybersquatters. What’s a cybersquatter? Someone who goes out and registers domain names that a business owner would want, then holds the domain names at ransom. It can happen to breweries of all shapes and sizes. Years back, Anheuser-Busch hit the headlines when it dealt with someone who had registered micheloblight.com and was using it in improper ways.

If you’ve never had to deal with a cybersquatter, we hope you never do. Still, it’s worth noting that if someone does use a domain you find problematic, there may be options to consider with your lawyer before, if ever, giving in and paying to transfer the domain. Here’s a very brief overview.

Congress has given trademark owners protection through the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), offering a potential route to federal court. Lawsuits, though, are inherently draining—on funds, emotions, and especially time—but the plus side is that, under ACPA, certain remedies such as money damages and even attorney’s fees can be available.

Outside of ACPA, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has an established arbitration procedure known as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Arbitration has the benefit of being much more cost effective and gets to a result in just a few months. However, the only remedy available is a transfer of the domain name.

It’s worth noting that whichever route a brewery goes (and a brewery could even go down both roads), a trademark owner is only protected from certain improper uses. If someone is using a domain name with good faith, perhaps legitimately offering commentary on a set of brews, it can be harder or impossible to succeed under ACPA or UDRP. And, given the expense involved either way and because breweries typically conduct only a limited amount of business online, it may be most economical of all (although maybe not in principle) just to look the other way.

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