Hearing stories about cybersquatters taking domains that are confusingly similar to corporate names is nothing new, but a new lawsuit from Dell shows just how far some firms are taking the practice. Dell has sued a group of registrars
claiming that they're really a series of shell companies designed to sit on various squatted domains for free. It's no secret that a common practice among domain squatters is to register a domain and put ads on it for a few days to see if it drives any revenue -- and if it doesn't to return the domain within the grace period. We had always heard of this practice
as being called "domain kiting," but Dell refers to it (more aptly) as "domain tasting" in its lawsuit. However, what's interesting here is that they're accusing one company of setting up a long series of shell corporations to keep registering the same domain name over and over again -- getting the benefit of the traffic without ever having to pay for the domain name. For example, Dell notes that one company registered "dellfinacncialservices.com" and used it for 5 days (the limit you can go without paying) before abandoning it. However, as soon as it was abandoned, another firm picked up, used it for 5 days and then abandoned it again, only to see another firm immediately pick it up. Basically, they trace a pretty compelling pattern to suggest that this was a coordinated effort, potentially by a single company.
The other interesting part about the lawsuit is that rather than focusing on standard laws having to do with cybersquatting, Dell has gone a step further and is claiming that registering domain names with the Dell name in them is akin to "counterfeiting." That seems like quite a stretch -- and even the legal expert quoted in the article seems to think it's a long shot for Dell to make that argument. If they win on this argument, then it could spell a lot of trouble for people who happen to own domain names that are similar to the names of large corporations. For many years, we've covered the fight between
Nissan (the automaker) and Uzi Nissan, the guy who owns Nissan.com (this story is getting some more attention this week, thanks to a Freakonomics post
, but the story itself has dragged on for years). Presumably, if Dell wins their case, then Nissan could turn around and accuse Nissan.com of "counterfeiting" and have a pretty strong precedent to back it up.