Don’t let howler prowlers hijack your URL

Companies invest a great deal of money in creating a brand to leave a
positive impression on the mind of the public. Given the ease with which a
company’s reputation can be eroded, protecting your web presence is essential to
managing your overall brand effectively. In particular, the plagiarising of
content, cybersquatting and anti-corporate websites all need to be on your
company radar.

In the online world, typosquatting is a technique designed to siphon
customers away from a popular site by diverting them to a different one if they
mistype the URL. You might expect to find books at, but
is something different.

Typosquatting causes confusion in the marketplace, blurs your audience’s
brand perception and diverts potential business from your website. Although
Microsoft Word may correct the most common spelling mistakes automatically, your
web browser does not.

The impact of typosquatting is largely dependent on how much traffic the
primary website receives. A site like Google, for example, receives huge volumes
of visitors every minute, so losing even a tiny fraction of that business to a
rival website might have significant revenue implications.

For larger corporates with a strong web presence, typosquatting could wreak
substantial damage on brand equity if web users are led astray to a competitor
site or a site with conflicting values.

There is no way to prevent typosquatting altogether, but individuals and
companies can take steps to reduce the risk, in particular by registering
variants of their online name which they feel may be at risk.

The official .uk domain name manager Nominet, for instance, has registered
‘’ and ‘’ to prevent the rerouting of traffic
away from its site. The first URL is to protect against accidents, because the
dot after the ‘www’ is easily missed. The second URL protects against fraud –
while the ‘0’ is very apparent in lower-case, domain names work equally well in
upper-case and ‘N0MINET.ORG.UK’ does not look wrong, so it could be used to
create a malicious link.

But even if you discover you are a victim of typosquatting, all is not lost –
you can contest ownership. Nominet’s dispute resolution service for .uk web
addresses treats domains that cause confusion as potentially abusive and can
transfer or cancel them.

Using a resolution service is often cheaper than going through the courts.
Last year, Nominet handled over 700 cases. One case involved 12 domain names,
all variants on ‘AllianceAndLeicester’, and all of which were ultimately awarded
to the bank.

The US-based global internet domain name manager, the Internet Corporation
for Assigned Names and Numbers, operates a similar process for .com, .net, .org
and .info addresses. ICANN recently upheld a typosquatting complaint from
Google, which claimed that Sergey Gridasov from Saint Petersburg, Russia, had
been running, and with the aim of infecting
PCs with computer nasties.

The UK’s civil courts base their approach on registered and unregistered
trademark law. This means that if a misspelt name is similar to the registered
trademark of the claimant, it may fall under registered trademark infringement.
Where the misspelt name only has value because of the reputation built up in the
unregistered name by the claimant, that money is made on the back of goodwill,
which the original trader put effort into creating. UK courts tend to view this
as parasitic activity, which should be stopped.

As is so often the case, pre-empting a problem is easier than reacting to it.
Organising your domain names early on is key. It’s not uncommon for Nominet to
receive enquiries from companies preparing to launch an online business only to
realise the day before launch that the domain options they have selected aren’t

Even if the name you want is already registered, you still have options.
First, consider whether it actually matters. If it does, it is possible to
transfer names by consent (they can be bought from the registrant), via a
dispute resolution service or though a court order. Do not forget that third
parties may have a legitimate right to a name.

When formulating your domain strategy, decide which top-level domains (.uk,
.com, .net, and .org) you need, and which second-level domain names are
required, if at all relevant. For example, under .uk, second-level domain
options include (for companies), (non-profit), (limited
companies), (public limited companies) and (individuals). Some
domain names restrict who can register, so you may not need to protect them at

Then ask yourself if you are protecting against mistakes or fraud. If someone
types the wrong name and finds the wrong website, they will often just retype.
But what about if they click on a link as part of a fraud? How likely is that to
apply to your company? For most companies, it is not that likely.

As an international company you may also find that, in the future, you have
to consider registering international domain names that allow the use of
non-alphabetical characters such as accents (for example, www.café,
letters from other alphabets (www.êïô or even symbols and ideograms –
for example, from Chinese. The jury is still out on whether this development
constitutes an important step in opening up the internet or an unnecessary
complication. Either way, it’s an area that needs consideration.

Ultimately, many factors can create confusion in the online marketplace and
have the potential to dilute or damage brand value. Treat them as you would any
offline equivalent. Consider the main risks, protect against them, and monitor
the minor risks. But do not feel obliged to register every variant on your name,
particularly if business via the internet is not your main sales avenue.

Edward Phillips is company solicitor at Nominet UK

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