You’ve come up with the perfect name for your new business. You’ve done all the paperwork. You have the trademark. The launch date is approaching and you just need to get the website in order.
You realize, too late, that someone’s already registered the domain name.
Sometimes, this can happen as an honest mistake. You and another business happened upon the same name.
Sometimes, it’s cybersquatting.
What is Cybersquatting?
Cybersquatting is when a person buys a domain name that matches a name they know is trademarked or otherwise owned by someone else. In the early days of the Internet, before the majority of brands already had an established website, it was very common.
Now, it doesn’t happen as frequently because most brands already own the best domain name for their brand. Now and then, you’ll still see famous cases in the news, particularly those related to celebrities and politicians.
How to Tell If the Owner is a Domain Shark
If you suspect your business may be the victim of cybersquatting, then it’s worth figuring out if that’s the case. You don’t have much recourse against another businesses or individuals that registered the domain in good faith, but you do if they registered it with the goal of selling it back to you at a big profit.
1. Your brand name was already out there.
If you’re a brand new business that no one’s heard of yet, then the person with the domain probably isn’t a domain shark. They would have to know in advance that a business would want the domain for it to make sense for them to buy it with profit from you in mind.
If you’re new, but your PR was better and faster than your domain registering skills, then there’s a chance you might have a cybersquatter on your hands.
2. Your brand name isn’t a common keyword.
If you named your company something that people commonly search for already, then the people who own the domain are called domain investors, rather than cybersquatters. If you decided to name your business something like Affordable Flights or Apple Computer Repair (not that these business names are necessarily available), then you’ll likely need to either cough up some cash for the matching domains or get creative coming up with a domain that’s similar.
3. Your desired URL goes to a page of domains for sale, rather than a unique website.
You’ve probably seen the kind of pages I mean anytime you’ve mistyped a URL. Instead of a website devoted to a particular business or thing, the page will include a list of different domains you can buy (including the one you originally typed in).
This clue alone doesn’t necessarily point to a domain shark, but if you’re trying to decide between a cybersquatter versus a legitimate competitor for the name, it increases the likelihood that it’s the former.
4. It takes you to a page selling products related to yours.
If you have a well-known brand name associated with a certain type of product and you find someone sitting on your domain name (or a similar one) acting like they’re you, then you probably have a cybersquatter. Using a similar domain to benefit from another company’s brand reputation definitely falls into this murky area.
5. It takes you to a page that criticizes your brand.
Similar to number four, but more brash, some cybersquatters will snatch up domains with the intention of making the rightful owner of the trademark look bad. This type of thing has happened more often with politicians than with business brands though, so you’re unlikely to encounter it.
6. They proactively contact you to offer to sell the site.
If someone gets in touch with you about selling a domain before you ever look into buying it yourself, then the chances are good that they bought the domain with the intention of making money by selling it to you, especially if they do #7.
7. They try to charge you a lot of money.
Brand name domains are usually only valuable to the brand. If someone’s trying to get you to pay a lot of money for a domain name that doesn’t make sense as anything other than your brand name, then you’ll know they’re a domain shark.
What You Can Do About a Cybersquatter
The bad news is that fighting a cybersquatter costs money. The good news is that brands almost always win. You have two options for fighting back.
1. Sue under ACPA.
The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) was passed for precisely this purpose. If you’re confident the person sitting on your domain is a cybersquatter and you can afford a lawyer, your chances of winning are good.
2. Arbitrate through ICANN.
The ICANN is a more affordable and less adversarial option. You can’t get any financial damages if you go with this option, but you will have the domain name transferred to you if you win. As with suing though, you have to have a pretty clear case that you’re dealing with a cybersquatter and not someone who happened to buy the domain name in good faith.
If you find that another company with a similar brand name is using your domain, you have to accept that they simply got there first. But if you find yourself facing off against a domain shark, you have some options. Make sure you know what you’re dealing with so you know how best to proceed.
The best way to protect yourself from cybersquatters is to be proactive. If you have a brand, claim your .com today, and don’t forget about the others: .net, .info, and more.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.