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  • The ethics of PPC domaining and cybersquatting

    I work in the industry of what amounts to used cybernetic real estate. The company I work for registers, on request, domain names that have been permitted to expire to be sold at auction to people that have previously expressed an interest in said domain name, as well as serving as an auctionhouse for owners of domain names to sell off their "property". Think "Ebay for domain names" and you have a fairly good idea of what we do.

    To be clear, the opinions I'm expressing are my own, and not that of the company I work for, yadda yadda yadda. I'm using Superman as a common frame of reference, and my comments have no basis in reality other than as an example.

    There has been a growing market in what can best be referred to as PPC (pay-per-click) domain names. The industry is called "domaining". Basically, you might type in "suprman.com" and your browser will come up with a webpage that links you to actual sites dealing with Superman. If you click on one of those links, the site you get redirected to will pay the owner of suprman.com some fraction of a penny. It seems like an infinitesimal amount, but there are people and companies that pull down six figures a year doing nothing but running sites like these.

    This is distinct from cybersquatting, which would be if, for some reason, Time-Warner let superman.com expire, and someone registered it, and refused to give it back to Time-Warner for some exorbitant fee.

    Generally speaking, two types of PPC domain names exist: typographical names, and derivative names. A typographical name is like what I cited above: suprman.com. A derivative name would be something like "supermancomics.com".

    Over the years, companies have become increasingly concerned about potential trademark infringement. Someone else is making money off of their name or brand. They generally believe that such domains should be their property automatically, or that they should have exclusive rights to the domain name should they want it to exist at all. When they run into such names, they generally go about securing the domain names in a fairly obvious pattern. First, they contact the listed owner, and occasionally the registrar (company that manages the domain name) by mail and/or email and threaten legal action. They might do this three or four times before they begin petitioning ICANN (the ruling body on internet domain names) to seek injunction against the owner (and, again, possibly the registrar), and finally, they may end up arguing their case in court. If it ever gets to either of the latter two stages, results can vary from having the contest denied, having the domain name granted immediately to the trademark owner, or having the domain name deleted from the registry.

    The crux of their argument generally seems to be "We own the Superman trademark. If someone is looking for Superman on the internet, they should be directed to us directly, we shouldn't have to pay someone to make sure they get directed to us." As far as the theory goes, on the surface, it seems fine. Some companies and lawyers would have you think that PPC domaining and cybersquatting are synonymous and that such purveyors are as bad as terrorists and hostage-takers.

    What they seem to ignore is that they already pay for such services. Search engine companies like Google and Yahoo are paid to give some search results higher priority than others. I don't understand the difference between typing "suprman" in and paying Google to link to them vs. someone typing in "suprman" in my url field and paying the PPC company (who is probably also Google) to link to them. Why is one considered normal business while the other is considered "bad"?
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The ethics of PPC domaining and cybersquatting started by Sr Gregor View original post