What is cybersquatting?
Of course, the term derives from “squatting”, occupying a property without permission. In a nutshell, cybersquatting means registering a domain name because it corresponds to someone else’s name. Typically, the cybersquatter aims to sell it to that person for a vast amount of money. Cybersquatting started in the early days of the internet, when many businesses hadn’t woken up to the importance of domain names.
Nowadays, people often use the term loosely (and wrongly). In particular, they apply it to behaviour of a domain name registrant which they don’t like. For example, the practice of posting pay per click advertising links on a website at the domain name. Or simply offering the domain name for sale to the world at large.
Sometimes, the term “cybersquatting” is used in a specific legal context. For example, there is a US federal law known as the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. This defines cybersquatting as “registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trade mark belonging to someone else”.
But generally , in the UK, it’s not legally relevant whether or not someone can be described as a “cybersquatter”. What is important is whether the registrant’s activities targets the complainant in a way which entitles it to get hold of the domain name.
A variation on the theme is “typosquatting”, where the domain name is an obvious misspelling of a trade mark. The typosquatter is out to attract traffic from users who mistype the name in their browser. Or who see it elsewhere, e.g. on a website or an email.
One insidious form of typosquatting is the “homograph” spoofing attack. Here, the culprit substitutes an English letter for a virtually character from another language in an “internationalized domain name” (also known as an “IDN”). For example switching “a” in English for a virtually identical Cyrillic character. Or switching “i” for a similar character in the Turkish alphabet, which differs only by omitting the dot. These can be very difficult to spot.