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Microsoft’s Cybersquatter Shootout

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Microsoft swaggered out of Redmond today with steely eyes and leathery skin, heeled with a pair of six shooters aimed at cybersquatters – four of them Microsoft knows by name, and 217 of them it doesn’t. In the saddlebag, software for anybody else with the guts to chase these dogs down.

Microsoft Stages Cybersquatter Shootout
Microsoft Sends In The Big Guns

Complete with titles enviable by the Department of Homeland Security, Microsoft declared war on cybersquatters and typosquatters using Microsoft trademarks to profit from online advertising.

Taking the lead of the initiative is Internet Safety Enforcement Attorney Aaron Kornblum, who looks to expand the company’s existing anti-phishing Domain Defense Program, operated in conjunction with Microsoft vendor Internet Identity of Tacoma, Wash.

“Microsoft has witnessed a virtual land rush for Internet domain names with the goal of driving traffic for profit,” said Kornblum. “Placing a high profile or pop culture trademark in your domain name is a tempting but illegal way to generate pay-per-click revenue.”

Internet Identity’s director of operations, Rod Rasmussen, said that on an average day more than 2,000 domain names are registered that contain Microsoft trademark terms. Of those, Rasmussen estimates that at least 75 percent are owned by professional domain name holding operations.

“These are all very conservative estimates,” he said. “We’re thinking that we’re really looking at 90 percent or more of domain registrations containing Microsoft trademarks as being these kind of operators.”

Awful Tony For a Mining Camp
All right, Doe. You called down the thunder. Well, now you got it.

You see that? It says, ‘Microsoft Internet Safety Enforcement.’ The cybersquatters are finished. You understand me?

I see a trademarked term, I sue the man usin’ it.

So run, you cur. Run! Tell all the other curs the law is comin’! You tell ‘em I’m comin’!

And hell’s comin’ with me, you hear?

–adapted from Tombstone

Microsoft cites domains like downloadvistaforwindows.com, freehotmail.net, gamesonxbox.com, halochamp.com, and msninforonline.com as examples of registered domain names that are not owned by the company, but are being used as PPC advertising vehicles to generate profits.

The practice registering Web site domains containing trademarked terms that are intended to catch the overflow of mistyped URLs or mislead searchers to profit from them was made illegal under the
Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), signed into law by President Clinton in 1999.

The ACPA imposes civil liability of up to US$100,000 in statutory damages for anyone who, with a bad-faith intent to profit, “registers, traffics in or uses a domain name that is identical to, confusingly similar or dilutive of” an existing trademark.

Microsoft has filed two civil lawsuits against a total of four named defendants the company says are profiting from domain names that infringe on its trademarks. The first suit names Jason Cox, of Albuquerque, N.M., Daniel Goggins, of Provo, Utah, and John Jonas, of Springville, Utah, doing business as Jonas and Goggins Studios LLC and Newtonarch LLC. Microsoft says they have registered 324 domain names targeting their intellectual property.

The second suit is against Dan Brown, of Long Beach, Calif., who allegedly registered 85 Microsoft-targeted domain names through his company Partner IV Holdings.

Just because these are the only individuals Microsoft knows by name, that doesn’t mean the company’s not going after 217 “John Doe” registrants. The company says its taking action to “unmask” defendants who have used privacy protection services to conceal their identities. Kornblum admits this will be challenge, as the action seeks to break through the fee-based services offered by domain registrars created to protect registrants’ personal information.

In conjunction with the aggressive litigation campaign, Microsoft will also be targeting online auctions of infringing domain names, seeking to have such auctions removed from online auction houses.

Last in the onslaught is a software tool developed the Strider Typo-Patrol Project, a research group led by Yi-Min Wang. The downloadable tool, called the Strider URL Tracer, allows Web domain owners to track down trademark infringments of their own online brand.

“Microsoft hopes to help Web surfers reach their intended Internet destinations,” Kornblum said. “Where you cross the line is when you misuse someone else’s intellectual property in your domain name.”

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Microsoft’s Cybersquatter Shootout
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