ScoMo Didn’t Know (But Neither Did These People): 5 Cases Where Cybersquatting Caused More Than Mere Inconvenience
What's in a (domain) name?
Website names (domain names), just like property, can be bought and sold and the online market for them is extremely competitive. There are sites which host bidding wars on well-known personal and company domain names when they expire, and they can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. Many people who are not well-versed in cyber-law would assume that this is illegal, and an infringement of intellectual property rights – but it isn’t really.
The truth is that no one has the exclusive right to use a domain name unless they’ve purchased it and it’s active. What many people don’t realise is that ownership of these names expires, and when it does, it’s a cyber free-for-all unless the owner has registered a trademark over their personal or company name. Domain name purchases can last anywhere from 12 months to 10 years, but all too often people lose track of when their name is set to expire – and then they lose it.
Here we’ll take a look at some famous instances where domain names have been controversially purchased or registered (known as domain or Cybersquatting), leading to not only humorous, but also sometimes serious consequences.
Although he’s only been Prime Minister since August, ScoMo’s online media track record hasn’t been the smoothest. A few weeks ago, a tweet was posted from his account which featured the song “Be Faithful” by Fatman Scoop. For those who know the song, it probably wasn’t the most appropriate choice. It was later removed and the Prime Minister apologised – and we all had a good laugh.
Just today, another ‘glitch’ occurred – this time on his official website. After the domain name expired yesterday, it was purchased for $50 and all that’s on the website is a photo of ScoMo and an audio clip of the song ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’ by Lustra. A key example of Cybersquatting, their only options to recover it are:
- Buy it back off the new owner of the domain (likely for an exorbitant price) or attempt to negotiate;
- Take legal action for trademark infringement
Only time will tell how ScoMo will reclaim his website, but for someone who is pushing the ‘daggy dad’ persona, this little ‘error’ may actually end up endearing him to the public.
Jeb Bush and Donald Trump
We all know that the 2016 republican primary campaign was messy. However, the brutality of this contest went beyond just quick-fire insults and adversarial debates. However, unlike ScoMo, Jeb Bush’s website domain wasn’t purchased when it expired and this case technically doesn’t involve Cybersquatting. One very perceptive user noticed that his campaign website was registered as ‘jeb2016.com’ and not his proper name, being ‘jebbush.com’. Subsequently, internet users who did not know the official campaign site name followed the ‘jebbush.com’ link and the purchaser of the domain redirected it to Donald Trump’s campaign website. Donald Trump’s campaign denied any involvement in this manoeuvre, but whoever bought this domain certainly did the now-president a favour. We’ll probably never know how much this affected Jeb’s campaign, but we do know, as of writing this piece, that jebbush.com is now a host site which advertises presidential merchandise – so whoever registered this domain would have made (and is probably still making) a great deal of money.
MikeRoweSoft versus Microsoft
Cybersquatting raises inevitable questions of trademark infringement, where a domain name brings the original owner as their trademark is connected to the site. In 2004, Microsoft took legal action against a teenager named ‘Mike Rowe’ who registered ‘MikeRoweSoft.com’ as a clever play on words. However, Microsoft saw this as an infringement of their trademark. This raised questions of whether Mike Rowe had engaged in ‘typosquatting’, which is where users register domain names that are common typos of well-known websites. For example, ‘www.goohle.com’ or ‘www.facebool.com’. In the end, the case was settled, with Microsoft paying Mike Rowe an undisclosed sum of money and giving him an xbox.
At the time, many people thought that Microsoft’s reaction was unreasonable and demonstrated the heavy-handed tactics used by large corporations in going after a teenager who was still in High School. However, it was also important that Microsoft ‘send a message’ to any future cybersquatters about how seriously they take their domain name and IP rights.
Bruce Springsteen – .com or .net?
In cases where the names of people who are ‘public figures’ are registered as domain names, arguing a case of trademark infringement isn’t always successful. In 2001, Springsteen took action against Jeff Burgar, who had registered ‘www.bruce.springsteen.com’. Unfortunately, Springsteen’s claim was not successful, as Burgar argued that the site was purely a fan website, and did not profit or do any damage to Springsteen’s reputation. Springsteen subsequently registered www.brucespringsteen.net, and he was unable to claim his own name as .com.
In 2013, a fan of Zlatan Ibrahimovic registered the domain name ‘zlatan.fr‘ in France. The fan subsequently posted a list of 12 challenges, and said that if Zlatan successfully completed one of them, he could have the domain name. However, Zlatan did not accept any of these challenges to recover the domain name, and further, did not take any legal action.
When it comes to protecting your brand on the internet, hyper-vigilance is better than complacency.
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Jackie is the Content Manager at Lawpath and manages the content team. She has a Law/Arts (Politics) degree from Macquarie University and is an admitted solicitor in the Supreme Court of NSW. She's interested in how technology can help shape the future legal landscape.