If you discover that someone or some business has registered an internet domain name using your personal name without authorization, you have encountered an unlawful form of cybersquatting and domain-name squatting. Many famous personalities have battled against this form of cyberbullying and this internet domain name abuse can continue long after a famous personality has passed. Not too long ago, the estate of singer Patsy Cline discovered someone had registered Patsycline.com without authorization. See media report here. When this happens, experienced and dedicated internet attorneys will need to pursue domain squatting litigation against the culprits. Broadly speaking, there are two litigation options:
- (1) Bringing claims under the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d) and
- (2) Initiating an arbitration proceeding with the the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution rules (generally called a “UDRP” action) — ICANN is an international nonprofit organization that governs domains and domain names (see here)
If your personal name has been cybersquatted, consulting with domain name litigation lawyers will provide specific guidance on your individual case. We, here at Revision Legal, are experts in cybersquatting and domain name issues and can help.
Generally speaking, there are some advantages and disadvantages to each type of proceeding that can be identified. The main advantage for claims filed in federal court under the ACPA is the ability to collect substantial money damages. It is possible to obtain upwards of $100,000 in statutory damages under the ACPA (along with an Order transferring the domain name from the cybersquatter). An ACPA litigation proceeding may be the best option if the person or entity that has cybersquatted on your personal name has many assets — “deep pockets” — and has profited from use of your personal name. Also, it may be the best option if there is a need to “send a strong message” to other potential cybersquatters. Another advantage is the ability to appeal an adverse ruling to a higher court in the traditional manner.
The main disadvantages of initiating ACPA litigation are higher cost, timing and higher legal standard. Higher costs include filing fees and litigation expenses. This may not be a problem for highly paid celebrities, but may be a significant barrier for persons of more modest means. In terms of timing, federal ACPA litigation can take years to complete (although injunctive relief can, sometimes, be accomplished more quickly). To prevail on an ACPA claim, there are several legal elements that must be proven (more than are required for a UDRP proceeding).
As suggested, the main advantages of UDRP litigation are speed and less cost. A UDRP proceeding is an arbitration. As such, the proceedings are much shorter, with only a limited amount of discovery exchanged between the parties. A UDRP proceeding might be resolved in as little as a few months. In addition, the legal standard is lower for success in a UDRP proceeding.
However, the UDRP panel is only empowered to order transfer of the domain name and has no authority to award money damages. This is a facial disadvantage, but also can be seen as an advantage of sorts if the entity that has cybersquatted on your personal name has few assets. In those circumstances, a UDRP complaint may be the best and speediest option. Unless the goal is to “send a strong message,” there is little point in obtaining a large money judgment if the judgment cannot be collected. The other disadvantage of a UDRP claim is the inability to take a meaningful appeal in the event of an adverse decision.