Domain squatting, buying domain names close to well-known brand names, buying domain names that are misspelled versions of well-known brands — these aren’t new things. It’s a problem that brands have had to deal with for decades. Unscrupulous people and organizations buy these domain names with the hope that they can use them to drive traffic from poor people who type the wrong domain name and end up on the wrong site. These domain owners make money through ads and other unethical behaviors.
One of the things I always teach brands is to protect your brand name online by securing your branded domain name, Twitter profile, Facebook page, and so on. Of course, you can’t fight everyone who uses your name or a name that’s oddly close to yours for unscrupulous reasons unless you have extremely deep pockets. Instead, you need to target those that could cause the most harm and the biggest problems.
Facebook is looking to change all that. The company is suing 20 owners of domain names that are misspellings of Facebook.com citing trademark infringement. Owners of domain names like ffacebook.com and facefook.com have been named in the lawsuit, the outcome of which could create a powerful precedent for brands looking to stop unethical use of names similar to their trademarked property.
Typically, trademark infringements occur when there is the potential for consumers to be misled into thinking the accused is the actual company that owns the trademark. For example, if ffacebook.com led you to a social networking site, you could be confused into thinking it really is Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook site. When it comes to cybersquatting, and in this case – typosquatting, trademark violations aren’t quite as crystal clear. There is a fine line between unethical behavior and illegal behavior.
Whatever the courts ultimately decide (and it’s unlikely the case will actually get that far), it’s a problem that brands face every day. With the growing number of domain extensions and the popularity of sites like Twitter and Facebook, more and more fake branded profiles pop up all the time. Celebrities face this problem continuously. Twitter has created its “verified account” feature, but it doesn’t solve the problem of protecting brands on the social web. There is currently very little recourse that brands can easily pursue when these types of trademark infringements or unethical behaviors occur.
What do you think about the Facebook lawsuit? Is it warranted or not? Should there be laws in place to better protect brands and trademarks online than currently exist? Leave a comment and share your thoughts and your own experiences protecting your branded trademarks online.
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