Cybersquatting on the Rise, Says WIPO
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Cybersquatting is at its highest level in four years. Is the dispute resolution system still working? Or are other factors causing problems?
You might not have heard much about cybersquatting in the news lately, and took this as a sign that the problem is going away. Think again. The World Intellectual Property Organization reported a 20 percent jump in the number of cybersquatting cases it handled in 2005 over the year before. Frances Gurry, director general of WIPO, stated that the number of cases is the highest recorded since 2001, and that the crime itself seemed to be on the rise.
For those who don’t know, cybersquatting occurs when someone who has no right to a particular trademark or copyright registers it as a domain name – for example, Steve Jobs registering a domain name with some variation of the word “Microsoft” in it would probably be considered cybersquatting. The cybersquatter hasn’t asked for permission from the rights holder, and often will try to sell the domain name to the rights holder for an exorbitant sum of money. In short, cybersquatting is an attempt to kidnap a piece of intellectual property and hold it for ransom.
WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center was created in 1994 to offer dispute resolution procedures for all types of intellectual property disputes. In December 1999, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy came into effect. It allows for a streamlined way to resolve disputes centering on domain names. Since the policy came into effect, the Center has handled more than 8,300 complaints. The total number of disputes racked up for 2005 came to 1,456.
The actual number of disputes over domain names may be higher. WIPO does handle more than half of the world’s cybersquatting disputes each year, but that still means the actual number of complaints last year could have approached 3,000. Given that a person can register a domain name for only a few dollars, the problem seems likely to grow as the Internet continues to increase in size.
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