Cybersquatting on the Rise, Says WIPO - Who are the Victims?
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Many of last year’s cases were brought by celebrities. These included Morgan Freeman, Damien Hirst, Frank Gehry, and Larry King. Sports organizations were also victims, such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Italian soccer club Juventus, and the English Premier League. Fashion designers also saw their names targeted, including Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Armani, and Calvin Klein.
Cybersquatters didn’t forget technology companies. Sony Ericsson and Renault had their day in arbitration. Indeed, in general, technology firms are frequent users of WIPO’s UDRP. Other regular users include entertainment figures, pharmaceutical companies, and small- to mid-sized businesses. These individuals and organizations live and die by their intellectual property.
Examining the cybersquatting cases that WIPO dealt with last year and sorting them by nationality, we find out that individuals or companies from the United States make up the single largest group of complaint filers, accounting for nearly half of the complaints. They also make up the single largest group targeted by complaints, again accounting for nearly half of the total number filed.
The next most frequent filers came from France, Britain and Germany. Interestingly, France and Germany were rarely on the other end of a cybersquatting complaint; instead, firms and individuals from China were frequent targets of complaints. Gurry believes this is due to linguistic reasons; certain languages are more accessible than others for cybersquatters.
WIPO’s figures are truly international. Since 1999, the Arbitration Center has handled cases coming from 127 countries, concerning 16,000 domain names. That may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that currently, there are about 60 million registered domain names worldwide. Despite the popularity of “end of the Internet” pages (just search for the phrase on Google for more than 799 million links), there seems to be no end in sight for the web’s expansion.
This very likely means no end to cybersquatters. As Gurry observes, cybersquatting “is a commercial model based on the number of hits on a site.” For a very small investment, a person can get instant traffic by trading off another individual’s or firm’s popularity, even if they don’t immediately try to sell the site back to the rights holder. Indeed, many of the cases handled by WIPO have involved the 100 largest international brands by value.
Most complaints, not surprisingly, revolved around users of the “.com” domain. Of all the global top level domains (gTLDs), this one has proven to be most popular. It’s one of the oldest gTLDs, and some Web surfers won’t take a business seriously unless it has a .com domain. It makes sense, then, that .com domains would be a frequent target for cybersquatters.
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