Cybersquatters try to get rich by hook or by crook
By Vishnu 'Ramius' Mahmud
JAKARTA (JP): As I trawl the Internet, I realize something rather obvious: people want to get rich. Really rich, really easily, really fast. The Internet is full of dotcom millionaires and success stories. There are many tales of people making a small program or website that was later sold to the highest bidder. (Never mind that most dotcom companies and websites fail within a year of their startup!)
There are also tales of domain speculation, otherwise known as cyber-squatting, where the idea is to purchase domain names (otherwise known as Internet addresses) and sell them for a profit. For example, buy www.mcdonalds.com and then later sell it to the McDonalds Corporation for a lot of money.
Registering a dotcom is relatively simple. Simply go to a domain register website (like www.register.com) and sign up your requested domain name. If it hasn't been taken already, all you have to do is fill a form and pay the US$35 yearly fee. Once that is done, the speculators then contact people who may be interested in the site name and offer to sell it for a rather substantial price.
Simple. Or rather, it used to be.
The cyber speculators never thought that the corporations or individuals would fight back through the courts or arbitration. The cybersquatters viewed it as an Internet land grab and those who came first got the prize, never mind about copyright or trademark issues. Capitalism at its best. Some of them registered thousands of domain names with the hope of selling at least one for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some cybersquatters can be very persistent, and sometimes resort to dirty tricks if their target refuses to pay up. The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was offered the domain www.bertieahern.com for a high fee. After the offer was rejected, the site became an adult content site in a bid to force the sale. After countless protests via e-mail, bad press, a failed auction and potential legal alternatives, the speculator finally relented and transferred the domain for a low nominal fee.
However, it is getting more difficult for cybersquatters to hold on to their domain names. The U.S. Congress recently passed the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which specifically bars the buying up of domain names for the sole purpose of reselling them to companies or individuals with similar names. Julia Roberts recently won a decision by the World Intellectual Property Organization (an arbitration panel part of the United Nations) against entrepreneur Russell Boyd of Princeton for the domain www.juliaroberts.com. Roberts successfully established that Boyd tried to sell her the site and made it into a Julia Roberts parody website after she refused to pay.
And cyber-squatting can fail. Jakartapost.com (and Jakartapost.net and Jakartapost.org) are registered to two different parties in two different countries. None of them are affiliated with The Jakarta Post in any official way. What was the Post's solution? It used the web address www.thejakartapost.com therefore bypassing the speculators and making their investments worthless. Coincidentally, www.thejakartapost.net belongs to someone in New Hampshire and that website is still "under construction".
In Indonesia, where a cyber law has yet to be established, speculators have purchased many domain names such as saham.com (ideal for the stock market) or kutabeach.com hoping to sell them to the various individuals or companies. Unfortunately for these brokers, companies can bypass the entire dotcom system and use the Indonesian domain names (ending in .co.id) managed by the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association (APJII).
So instead of www.mywebsite.com you can have www.mywebsite.co.id. To register an Indonesian site, however, requires more documentation since you must prove that you own the name you are planning to register, in order to protect trademarks and copyright holders.
So what can a cyber speculator do? Find a name that is not trademarked or copyrighted, purchase the site and wait. Common terms or verbs like buying.com and running.com (both taken) are fair game for companies who want a catchy and easily remembered name. Indonesia.com belongs to a company in Vancouver, Canada, which owns a host of other names such as malaysia.com or call.com. Needless to say, that site gets some "accidental" pageviews but are probably small compared to the Indonesian sites filled with content such as detik.com or astaga.com.
As a speculator, the risk is like opening a shop: a large inventory with no guarantees of selling anything. If potential companies or individuals get creative and select other domain names, the Internet sites in the speculator's catalog are worthless. One must have the right name that everyone wants. The problem is that all the good domain names have been taken. So as I continue to trawl the net in the hopes of finding the perfect non-copyrighted or non-trademarked name, I can only dream of those riches that are just a click away.
For more information on registering a site, click to www.register.com or www.apjii.or.id