What is cybersquatting?
In the early days of the internet, when many businesses hadn’t woken up to the importance of domain names, the practice of registering a domain name corresponding to a famous name, usually that of a company and usually with the aim of selling the domain name to that company for a vast sum, became known as “cybersquatting”. Of course, this term derives from “squatting”, occupying a property without permission.
Nowadays, we find that people use the term loosely, most often as a label applied by people to a subset of domain disputes, particularly posting pay per click advertising links on a website at the domain name and/or simply offering it for sale.
Sometimes, the term “cybersquatting” is sometimes used in a specific legal context. For example, there is a US federal law known as the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act which defines cybersquatting as “registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trade mark belonging to someone else”.
But generally speaking, in the UK, it’s not legally relevant whether or not someone can be described as a cybersquatter. What is important is to figure out whether the registrant’s activities come within the criteria which may entitle the complainant to obtain ownership and control of the domain name.
A variation on the theme is “typosquatting” where the domain name consists of an obvious misspelling of a trade mark, designed to attract users who mistype the name in their browser or who see it elsewhere, e.g. on a website or an email. This can include a “homograph” spoofing attack, where the culprit substitutes an English letter for a virtually character from another language in an “internationalized domain name” (also known as an “IDN”), for example switching “a” in English for a virtually identical Cyrillic character. Or switching “i” for a similar character in the Turkish alphabet, which differs only by omitting the dot. These can be very difficult to spot.