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Is Typosquatting Legal?

14th April, 2020

Posted by ESQwire

What is Typosquatting?

 Typosquatting is unique from cybersquatting.  Its focus is on misleading consumers to think they are going to a legitimate website, but through carelessness mistyped the address.  According to a McAfee article, “typosquatting” refers to a situation in which another party attempts to benefit from an internet user incorrectly typing in a particular website’s URL.  After the user mistakenly goes to the wrong website, the hacker is then able to use the information obtained from the internet user for his or her own benefit and often divert visitors from a legitimate business website. 

The term comes from the notion that an internet user makes a “typo” when typing in an internet address. For example, say you want to go to the website “www.WashingtonPost.com.” However, as you rush to type in the address, you accidentally type in “www.WashingtonPpost.com”—do you see the extra “p”? When there is no typosquatting at work, the internet user will typically get an error message. However, if a hacker has purchased that inaccurate website domain (“www.WashingtonPpost.com”), then that site might even look like the Washington Post’s website. Then, when the user enters his or her login information to read an article, the hacker can take those login credentials and try to enter them in other websites to transfer funds or make purchases online. Federal law prohibits this type of behavior, however a business owner needs to have a trademark in order to hold a typosquatter accountable.  

 

Is Typosquatting Legal? 

Anticipatory cybersquatting, or registering a domain name with the hope that it will allow for cybersquatting in the future, is another matter. As an article from the American Bar Association (ABA) explains, the existing federal laws that are designed to prohibit cybersquatting are not particularly effective when it comes to putting a stop to anticipatory cybersquatting.  However, the UDRP is the most common mechanism used to combat this behavior. 

To be clear, the act of registering “www.WashingtonPpost.com,” is most likely going to be found to be improper under the UDRP.  It is certainly unlawful to mislead consumers or misdirect them to fraudulent websites. Moreover, under federal law, it is unlawful to engage in typosquatting if the original website name is associated with a trademark or service mark. 

 

What You Should do if You are a Victim of Cybersquatting

It is important to shield your business by taking steps to protect your domain against typosquatting. An article in Medium recommends the following steps for business owners to protect their intellectual property rights and to avoid losses: 

  • Register your trademark;
  • Think ahead and buy variations of your domain name; and
  • Make sure your domain is registered in your name.

Typosquatting protection is possible if you take steps in advance. Yet even if you are the victim of criminal activity, you may still be able to take steps to stop it. Generally speaking, you may be eligible to file a claim under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) or you may be able to go through arbitration proceedings under the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

 

Typosquatting Protection: Filing a Claim

If you have been the victim of such a crime, you should speak with an experienced attorney to learn more about your options. As we mentioned above, you may be eligible for one of the following options:

  • Filing a lawsuit under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA): Gives trademark holders a cause of action when another party, with a bad faith intent, engages in the “use of a domain name that is identical to, confusingly similar to, or dilutive of a trademark or service mark of another that is distinctive at the time of registration of the domain name.”
  • Using the arbitration system of the UDRP established by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): ICANN implemented a policy for resolving disputes with domain names. Since it is an arbitration system, you do not file a lawsuit but rather go through an arbitration process.

There are benefits and limitations to each option, which our domain name dispute attorneys can discuss with you.

 

Contact an Attorney About Typosquatting Protection 

When you have been affected by typosquatting, you should get in touch with an experienced attorney to learn more about options that may be available to you. You may be eligible for a remedy under the ACPA or through ICANN. An advocate at our firm can speak with you today about your situation. Contact ESQwire Internet & Domain Lawyers today to learn more about how we can assist you.   

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