August 22, 2006 12:29 PM PDT

Microsoft puts cybersquatters on notice

Microsoft on Tuesday launched a new offensive against cybersquatters who allegedly gain illegal profits from thousands of Web sites, such as WindowsLiveTutorial.com and HaloChamp.com, that include the company's trademarked names.

Redmond filed three lawsuits in federal court this week claiming that some Web site operators have registered and operate hundreds of domain names with the sole purpose of reaping "bad faith" profits and in violation of federal and state laws.

Two of the complaints, filed in Utah and California, name known individuals accused of running more than 400 such sites. A third "John Doe" complaint is aimed at unmasking alleged cybersquatters, affiliated with 217 different domain names, who have paid privacy protection services to have their registration information shielded.

The litigation marks the first time Microsoft has filed suits stemming exclusively from a 1999 law called the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, or ACPA, although it has raised cybersquatting allegations in past suits against alleged phishers and spammers, company attorney Aaron Kornblum said in a telephone interview. ACPA subjects anyone who "registers, traffics in or uses a domain name that is identical to, confusingly similar or dilutive of" an existing trademark to up to $100,000 in damages.

"We've seen a tremendous rush on domain name registration...in particular with domain names containing Microsoft intellectual property," Kornblum said. "This effort is designed to more aggressively protect our customers trying to visit Microsoft Web properties as well as protect Microsoft's brands and domains online."

Designed to target those who registered the largest number of allegedly infringing domain names, the new suits are part of Microsoft's broader plan to beef up its crackdown on cybersquatters and "typosquatters," in which a person registers a name similar to a highly trafficked site, except riddled with a subtle spelling error. The company also announced plans to expand its crackdown on resale of such domain names on Internet auction sites.

The tactic used by the sites named in the lawsuits reflects a change in the cybersquatting "ecosystem," Kornblum said. In the past, cybersquatting more frequently referred to sitting on popular domain names and essentially holding them for ransom. The sites targeted by Microsoft involve registrations of large numbers of domains by a single entity filled with online ads aimed at generating click-through revenues. Kornblum said he wasn't sure how much money the sites in question had made for their operators but hoped the litigation process would reveal that information.

The domain name owners named in the complaint were not immediately available for comment.

On an average day, more than 2,000 sites containing Microsoft trademarks are registered, according to watchdogs with Internet Identity, a Tacoma, Wash., company hired by Microsoft several years ago to monitor domain name registrations. They estimated that about 75 percent are owned by professional domain name holding corporations and that 90 percent of all registrations occur among those hoping for illegal profits.

Combating alleged cybersquatters is not a new focus for Microsoft. The company began keeping a close eye on domain names several years ago because it noticed that Internet fraudsters frequently used them to dupe unsuspecting visitors into handing over, say, sensitive bank account information, Kornblum said. For the past few years, the company's research arm has been engaged in a project called the Typo-Patrol, which produced software designed to scan URLs for typos and reveal the owners of domain names.

Microsoft also earned notoriety in 2004 over reports that it had threatened a 17-year-old Canadian student named Mike Rowe to turn over the domain name MikeRoweSoft.com. After admitting it had been overaggressive in its handling of the situation, the company reached an agreement with Rowe, who ceded control of the site in exchange for various Microsoft services including a new Xbox game system.

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10 comments

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Trademarks shouldn't...
Apply to domain names. If Microsoft was so concerned with their trademark names then they should have registered the domains themselves when they had the chance. There are only so many domain names and if companies can file lawsuits simply because you choose one that has a trademarked name in it then that leaves the number of available and viable names very limited. Domain names should be first come first served. If your worried then register them yourself, that should be the only way to protect yourself.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
agreed
Man, their evil knows no bounds. Too lazy to register the domain
name themselves, yet more than ready to send an armada of
lawyers upon anyone who registers anything that's similar to what
M$ *SHOULD* have registered on their own?

The more I read about Micro$loth, the more I hate them.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
I agree as well
Perhaps they just wanted to see which ones would actually get traffic before taking them away from the folks who were smart enough or fast enough to register the names. If this is allowed, I am sure that it will set precidents that would affect many domains now operating. I have a site with "Tire" in the name...I wonder how long it will take one of the tire manufacturers to take that site.

I agree, the domain name issue should be; first come...first serve. If you really want the name that bad, then the laws of supply and demand come into play. How bad do you really want that name? What is it really worth to you?

Following this type of logic to the obscure...

Perhaps the United Kingdom will make folks give up the United States since "United" is in the name and I am sure that the United Kingdom (England) came first...
Posted by bdering (3 comments )
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I think the article addressed a different issue
If someone beats microsoft to a name that they wanted to use, thats something completely different than what the article is addressing. its when someone decides to make microsofft.com or windowslife.com or some other rip off name whose profits are basically driven off of people making typos. Microsoft doesnt want these domain names with typos, they are just trying to stop people from making money off of their name.

If an article mentions microsofts name, it doesnt necessarily mean that microsoft is doing something evil. Its one thing to not like microsoft, but its another thing to just overplay the "evil corporation" card. Some people need to seriously stay at slashdot.
Posted by velocity303 (3 comments )
Link Flag
this is appropriate
unless of course you think it is reasonable for someone to register a domain and then blackmail anyone wishing to use it to gain a competitive advantage or simply to sell a product or service.

Why is this conceptually all that different from patent trolling? Why should any company be required to buy up every conceivable domain name they might ever want to use? Isn't that ultimately bad for the internet? What happens when a wealthy company like Microsoft spends a paltry (in Microsoft terms) $50M buying up every remaining .com domain with 6 letters or less? Is that good for small companies and startup? Big companies have the resources to escalate this 'domain trolling' to a whole new level. Is that what we want?
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree....
In the "real world" others are prohibited from using your registered or trademarked business name without permission. The web is simply an extention of the brick and mortar world and should abide by the same business rules.

Squatters are attempting to mmake money off of someone else's hard work. They should be sued for 3 times the estimated damages to the company that they have intentionally diverted web traffic from.

That's what they get for pulling that crap in the B&M world, and that's what they need here.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Link Flag
I agree....
In the "real world" others are prohibited from using your registered or trademarked business name without permission. The web is simply an extention of the brick and mortar world and should abide by the same business rules.

Squatters are attempting to mmake money off of someone else's hard work. They should be sued for 3 times the estimated damages to the company that they have intentionally diverted web traffic from.

That's what they get for pulling that crap in the B&M world, and that's what they need here.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Link Flag
2 Issues In One Article
I think that there are really two different parts being tackled in this article, at least that is how it sounds based on the article. The end part not being the point of the story, but I think the MikeRoweSoft.com mentioning clouds the water for the article.

Some people that are saying that Windows was too slow, and that is their own fault, might be looking at it from more of the Mike Rowe aspect, those that think Microsoft is right are looking at the squatting aspect more. Soo....

I'd have to say that I completely agree with Microsoft to go after squatters. I was attempting to register a domain for a non-profit organization that I am involved with, and it's for auction at $700. I'm sorry, but a non-profit organization can't afford to shell out money for that sort of thing, yet the domain name is just sitting there, doing very little. I think you have to consider the fact that with a limited number of domain names, every domain name should be able to live up to a certain potential. By having thousands piled up on an auction site is really preventing that potential from coming through on the web.

HOWEVER, as for Microsoft going after that MikeRoweSoft website, I think that is completely wrong. If you register a domain to create an actual site, I don't think you should be threatened or bought out (unless you want to be.) No matter what the content, if you are going to put up actual content that you want to be viewed on the web, you're going to pick a practical name. If I create software for a windows system, and want to call it MyWindowsSoftware.com, I think I should be allowed to keep it.

And that is what the whole law and article appears to be about. It's not about Microsoft taking domains because it has Windows in it, it's about people registering Windows domains because they are purposely trying to blackmail a company into having to pay the ransom for the domain name.
Posted by Brandon Bartelds (42 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft's hidden agenda
Regardless of whether or not Microsoft is "in the right" to take this action, Microsoft has a hidden agenda for stomping out all typosquatting and cybersquatting:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://domainnamewire.com/2006/08/25/analyzing-the-microsoft-cybersquatter-lawsuits/" target="_newWindow">http://domainnamewire.com/2006/08/25/analyzing-the-microsoft-cybersquatter-lawsuits/</a>
Posted by andrew999999999 (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agenda isn't hidden and speculation isn't fact
The article you referenced, like the clowns who posted the first message and those who agreed with it all impute evil actions to MS without a shred of actual evidence.

On the other hand it's pretty certain that those who engage in typo-domains definitely have less than honorable motives, in fact (as alluded to but not detailed in the article) some of those "slighty off" domain names have been used for phishing purposes so by going after people who do such things MS is helping to clean up the domain name space as a whole and everyone benefits from that.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
 

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