Caution when protecting domain names

A common concern with domain names is the use of very similar domain names by others, which drives traffic intended for one site to another.  One example is typosquatting, which is the practice of registering and using a domain name that is the likely result of mis-typing a domain name.  Traffic is then driven to another website by the mistaken typing of the intended domain name.  Another common concern is the use of a trademark of another in a domain name, again with the intent to drive traffic to another site with the trademark.  There are several ways to protect against such problems.

The Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy adopted by ICANN provides a means for a domain name to be assigned to a trademark owner if the domain name is confusingly similar to a trademark and the domain name is registered in bad faith.  Similarly, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act provides remedies for trademark owners.  A practical way to protect a domain name and trademark without having to hire a lawyer is to register several iterations of the domain name to prevent others from registering and using them, or registering them and trying to sell them.  When registering such iterations to protect a website, there is a temptation to use the additional domain names as redirects, so that if a user types in one of the additional domain names, it takes the user to the original intended website.  By doing so, the website owner can have several domain names all leading users to one website.

Here is the caution: if the website to which traffic is being driven using one of the additional domain names as a redirect collects any personal information, including a user identification and password, to access an account or other information, the website owner should not allow the registration of the other or additional domain names to lapse, or allow the domain names to be placed for sale by a registrar or used by another.  Why?  Because the new domain name owner could use the domain name as a redirect to his or her website, and users accustomed to typing in the additional domain name may not recognize that they have been redirected to a new website.  This is true, particularly if the domain name includes a trademark, or name that is confusingly similar to a trademark.  Users will believe that they are using the website of the original intended owner and happily type in personal and confidential information at an unknown and unintended website.  The new owner of the domain name could then collect the information on the new website and use it to access accounts and other information from the original website.  Fraud and identify theft are the natural results.

The bottom line is caution should be used when developing a plan for protecting domain names and the use of trademarks in domain names.  There is no question that a plan should be established, but it needs to include consideration of these issues.

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