Area of Law: Internet and Cyber Law
Answer # 356
Domain Names and CybersquattingRegion: Ontario Answer # 356
A domain name is the address of a particular website. For instance, www.LegalLine.ca is the domain name of this website. The domain name allows a website to be accessed by, and communicate with, others on the Internet. A domain name can be made up of a combination of letters and/or numbers that you choose.
You must have a domain name to set up a website, but you do not need a domain name to surf the Internet. In order to connect to the Internet, a computer must have an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Domain names are sometimes confused with IP addresses. IP addresses are the unique series of numbers, separated by periods that identify each computer which is attached to the Internet.
Registering a domain name
There are several things you must do if you would like to have your own domain name. To be able to use a domain name, it must be registered with a domain registry. A domain registry is a company that regulates the use of domain names and ensures that no two people or organizations use the same name. You can register a domain name before you create your website. If you want to register a particular domain name, you can usually check the website of a domain registry company to see if the name is still available. There are many online companies you can use that, for a nominal fee, will search for and register domain names. Domain names often end in ‘.com’, ‘.org’, or “.net.’ Websites can also end in many other ways, such as ‘.ca.’, which identifies the website as originating in Canada.
In addition to making sure that the domain name you want to use is not already taken, you should ensure that the name does not infringe the rights of another person. In particular, you should ensure that the domain name you select does not infringe someone else’s trademark. If you want additional legal protection for your domain name, you should also get it trademarked. You can obtain more information about trademarks in the Intellectual Property section of this website.
Top-Level Domain (TLD)
As mentioned, domain names often end in ‘.com’, ‘.org’, or “.net.’, and in many other ways. This place in the domain name is called the root zone. A top-level domain (TLD) is one of the domains at the top of the hierarchical system of the Internet. The organization that is responsible for the TLDs is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names (ICANN). It operates the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and is in charge of maintaining the Domain Name System (DNS) root zone. ICANN is also responsible for the delegation of the management of TLDs to specific organizations.
New generic Top-level Domains (gTLDs) are continually being registered. There are two types of gTLDs: unrestricted and restricted. The unrestricted included TLDs, such as .com, .net, .org, .biz and .info. Restricted gTLDs are intended for groups qualifying as part of a specific sector. Examples of restricted gTLDs include .gov and .edu. Those wishing to register a restricted gTLD must provide proof of their status or validity as part of the defined sector. Currently, there are about 900 gTLDs registered, and about 2,000 that have been submitted and are hoping to be registered. These numbers are continually increasing.
With the increased number of gTLDs, there will inevitably be an increase in cybersquatting. Cybersquatting occurs when someone, without a legitimate business interest in a particular trademark, registers a domain name containing the trademark usually for the purpose of selling the domain name to the owner of the trademark at an inflated price. The owners of trademarks or brands can attempt to avoid cybersquatting by registering domains which incorporate their brand.
If someone infringes your trademark by registering your brand in a TLD or a gTLD, you can take steps to de-register the domain and acquire control of it. The first step, as in all types of infringement situations, either online or offline, is to send a letter requiring the squatter to stop the infringing activity (in this case de-register or transfer the registration to the trademark owner). If this is not successful, further action can include alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and/or a court action. Depending on the domain name, you can follow the ADR procedures under the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) which deals with .ca registrations, or ICANN which controls .com, .org, .net and other TLDs. Generally, you must prove that the domain name:
- is too confusingly similar to the trademark
- was registered in bad faith (e.g. to resell to the owner at inflated prices)
- was registered by someone with no legitimate interest in the name.
The requirements to register a domain name vary depending on the applicable domain registry. For up-to-date information about registration, you can consult a domain registry company. For legal assistance with your domain name and website, you should consult a lawyer who specializes in Internet law and electronic commerce.
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