TechMan: Cybersquatting brings Wild West feel to the Internet
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Cybersquatting has been around almost as long as the Web itself.
Wikipedia defines it as using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. In other words, squatting close to someone else's trademark.
Often the cybersquatter will register a domain name that is just one letter off a popular brand, hoping to garner Web traffic as surfers are taken to the site by a mistyping. This is known as "typosquatting."
If you type post-gazzette.com (2 zs instead of one), instead of this newspaper's Web site, you will go to a site with ticket, hotel and classified ads and many others.
If you look up the site on whois.com, you'll see it is registered to a guy named Brad in Surrey, British Columbia.
Brad is obviously getting money for linking to all those ad sites. He is getting his Web traffic because of the popularity of post-gazette.com and that some people, such as TechMan, are fumble-fingered. That's typosquatting.
The same thing holds true to post-gazettte.com (3 ts), although ol' Brad is not listed as the registrant.
Domain names have been sort of the Wild West -- anyone can register any name (with some restrictions). There are many stories, a lot of them untrue, about people who registered common trade name domains in the infancy of the Web and then sold them to the company for a big profit. According to law site Nolo.com, Panasonic, Fry's Electronics, Hertz and Avon were among the "victims."
This is illegal now under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act passed by Congress in 1999.
What is a domain name? It is the name of your site followed by .com or .net or .org or any number of other suffixes. Domain names are necessary because sites are actually located on the Web by a series of numbers that no one could possibly remember. So a name is given to a Web site that is then translated to the numbers when you tell your browser to go to the site.
You register a domain name with a domain-name registrar such as Go-Daddy.com or register.com (there are a host of others) and it usually costs $10 to $35 for a year.
At the end of the year the domain-holder must renew the registration and pay the fee again. If the name is not re-registered before the year lapses, anyone can buy the domain name. Sometimes people forget to re-register on time.
Which leads to another type of cybersquatting, sometimes called "renewal snatching." A cybersquatter may use automated software tools to register lapsed names the instant they lapse, then try to sell them to the previous owners.
One of the earliest examples of all this, although technically not cybersquatting, is whitehouse.com. When it came online in 1997, it was a political site, but then adult content was added to make it more profitable. It has been through various guises since then and is currently inactive.
All of this domain business is managed by a non-proft corporation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), based in Marina Del Ray, Calif.
ICANN has a a forced arbitration process for settling domain name conflicts that is meant to keep such cases from going to court under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
ICANN recently made the first major change in domain naming in years by allowing suffixes to be expressed in a non-Latin language.
Thus companies or individuals in Egypt, whose country suffix has been .eg, can now apply for names ending in .masr, the country's name in Arabic. The suffix will be in Arabic characters. Egypt will also keep its .eg addresses.
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates also have been given the go-ahead to offer addresses with Arabic suffixes. A Cyrillic suffix for Russia is expected to be added soon.
ICANN said it has received a total of 21 requests for such domains representing 11 languages since it began accepting applications in November
So if you're thinking of making a little fast cash from our friends at the Tribune Review by registering pittsburglive.com (no h), forget it.
Someone with a post office box in Hong Kong already has it.
First Published June 6, 2010 12:00 am