Google unsurprisingly is a target for domain squatting or cybersquatting of the domain name “GoogleCoronavirus.com” by a Massachusetts based man. Cybersquatting is the process of pre-emptively registering and blocking possibly valuable domain names so that it may then be sold to whoever may need it for a higher rate. Registering a domain in a name, which has no connect to the registrant and done with the sole purpose of either gaining financially for its transfer or to misuse a popular personality’s name or brand could be generally referred to as cybersquatting. In April 2020, Google succeeded in retrieving “GoogleCoronavirus.com” from the registrant, who had illegally registered this domain.
After the outbreak of the global pandemic, it appears that several social media companies have been registering domain names including their brands and terms like “coronavirus” and “Covid-19” to safeguard against possible cybersquatting.
Facebook for instance has registered over 500 domain names including its brands and these terms.
Domain names are registered on a first-come first-serve basis and this makes the process of maintaining domain names across multiple top level domains (such as .com, .in, .org, .ly, .ch and various other country level domain names) a very expensive affair. Domain name disputes are dealt with, through online dispute resolution mechanisms. The World Intellectual Property Organisation, Geneva (“WIPO”) for instance handles domain name disputes pertaining to .com and .org domain registrations. Several other top level domains including of various countries are also decided by WIPO. India’s top level ‘.in’ domain name disputes are dealt with by NIXI (National Internet eXchange of India) since 2005 .
Remedies against violations are also available through civil suits for infringement of Trademarks through registration of false domain names under the Trade Mark Act, 1999. Conversely, usage of a domain name, as the basis to seek Trademark registration is also an effective proof of usage to sustain the application.
In one of the earliest judgments on cybersquatting, in Rediff Communication Limited Vs. Cyberbooth, the Bombay High Court granted injunctive orders in favour of the Plaintiff’s domain ‘rediff.com’ and against the deceptively similar domain name of the Defendants’ ‘radiff.com’. The Court held that the domain name of the Plaintiff was much more than just an “internet address” and that the Plaintiff had “Rediff”, as a registered trademark lent itself to sustain the case.
Cyber Saathi may also lead to criminal cases, where a registrant uses a deceptively similar domain name for committing fraud. Many cases exist where by just adding or deleting one alphabet, a fake website will be set up using a domain name registered with mala fide intent. This was most prevalent for banks frauds in early days where the falsified website will be used to siphon out bank account and password details. Many cases have also been dealt with where entire fake websites mirroring genuine websites are created, of businesses and payments diverted to the fraudsters. In several such cases, where the businesses may not have been alert, cases end up getting registered against the genuine business, as customers would have paid the fraudsters and not received the goods. Provisions such as Section 420, 416 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) may be invoked for frauds committed. Similarly Sections 66C and 66D of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended) (“IT Act”) may be invoked for the online frauds, as set out above. With the facts of each case, the applicable provisions will vary. The above are just indicative to demonstrate that there are civil and criminal remedies for the offence of cybersquatting also.
It is therefore imperative that businesses and corporates do continuous and repeated audits of indexed websites to verify and take down fake and fraud websites. Whilst the criminal has evolved to even modifying codes on genuine websites to divert customers to fake bank accounts for payments, law enforcement is grappling with early day modus in commission of cybercrimes.
(Refer Nappinai N. S. (2017). Technology Laws Decoded. Published by LexisNexis. Chapter 3 – Technology & IPR and the detailed analysis of domain name cases and disputes for further details. (https://www.cybersaathi.org/technology-laws-decoded/)
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