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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

Internet—Domain name law attempts to rein in cyber-squatting

Individuals Prevented From Copying With Ill Intent

Los Angeles attorney Jeff Riffer is rather proud of himself. As the prosecuting attorney, he successfully litigated one of California’s first cyber-squatting cases in the 1990s.

Now it’s more than likely that whenever two combatants face-off in a courtroom over domain name registration one will site Riffer’s case.

And as of Sept. 28, these types of legal disputes over domain names had occurred 1,888 times since the beginning of the year, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers , a nonprofit domain name management firm. Cyber-squatting has seemingly become such a problem that California created a law to prevent the malicious use of Internet domain names. The new law, SB-1319, prevents an individual from using a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to the name of another person, living or diseased, but only if the name is used with ill intent.

Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill Aug. 25. President Clinton signed a smiliar federal bill, the Anti Cyber-squatting Consumer Protection Act last year.

– Law Addresses Open Territory

Attorney Riffer believes the state regulation is an attempt to contain the limitless boundaries of the Internet. Although the law has not yet been tested, Riffer said it will have only one result. “It’s going to create a lot more litigation in California,” he said.

Since representing the Spanish-language La Opinion newspaper against a cyber-squatting publishing company in Lozano Enterprises v. La Opinion Publishing Co. in 1996, Riffer has had an eye on domain name lawsuits. “A couple of years ago in L.A. there was a case with the Bally (Total Fitness) health clubs,” he said. “Someone registered ballysucks.com and in that case the courts said ‘No, that’s free speech and they’re entitled to do it.'” In Carlsbad, Global Domains International, a firm which publishes a register of top-level domain names ending with .ws, launched a “war on cyber-squatters” on Oct. 4. The campaign was scheduled to last 90 days.

The company planned to sell the rights of protection for 10 cents a day to the domain names of all Fortune 500 public and private companies, the top 200 Internet companies, and all professional sports teams.

– Listed Names Were Protected

The companies on those lists had first right of refusal and after that anybody could pay for them. As of Oct. 3, nordstrom.ws was available, said Global Domains International spokesman Robert Blodgett. Outside of those names individuals were free to register anything they chose, within reason. Global has a list of more than a dozen or so forbidden words. They include the seven words George Carlin can never say on television.

San Diego attorney Guylyn Cummins, a partner with the law firm Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP, likens the cyber-squatting litigation frontier to the Wild West. “But slowly we’re getting law and order and everybody knows what the rules are,” she said. Cummins believes the federal law and California’s new law may have put an end to cyber-squatting.

“I think, actually, that the new legislation has pretty much cut the heart out of the profit of cyber-squatting and I don’t think we’ll see nearly as much of it in the future,” Cummins said.


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