May 2, 2013
Facebook Defeats The Cybersquatters
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A Northern California court has just handed Facebook a victory in their fight to remove any domain names which may look or sound something like “Facebook.com.” Domain squatters — companies and individuals which buy lookalike and soundalike domains and never use them — have been sitting on these misspelled domains for years. Facebook will now gain access to more than 100 of these as well as $2.8 million in statutory damages.Facebook first launched its suit against the squatters in 2011, and according to TechCrunch, this victory makes Facebook one of the first large companies to win damages under the US Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
In an email statement to TechCrunch, Facebook´s associate general counsel Craig Clark said the company was “pleased with the court´s recommendations.”
“We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to enforce against those who attempt to take advantage of the people who use our service.”
Facebook specifically called out domain names like “datebook.com,” “facebokook.com,” and faacebook.com” in their suit, many of which were registered by single entities. Facebook´s worry here is that the entities that register these domains may leverage the social network´s popularity to serve ads or get personal information from users who accidentally type an extra “a” or leave out one “o.”
Some of these domains contain legitimate misspellings, while others are plays on the original Facebook.com. For instance, “facebookfreezer.com” and “faceboocklogin.com” were also included in the suit as domain names which might be used to trick or exploit confused users. Though not listed in the suit, “bookface.com,” directs to a website which asks users to fill out a survey and hand over some of their information.
According to a Sophos report, typosquatters often use these sites to trick users into clicking malware-infected links or serving up ads. This report found that Facebook is the third-most popular site for typosquatters behind Google and Apple.
Beyond the potential to harm their users, Facebook also complained that some of these sites infringe on their trademarks. Some of the sites listed in the suit had a similar layout to Facebook´s, complete with the blue and white color scheme and the iconic blue square logo. The aforementioned bookface.com features some Facebook and YouTube characteristics.
The US Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act was created to protect businesses against those who attempt to make money from simple misspellings or similar word combinations. It was passed into law in 1999, but enforcing the law can be difficult as the number of potential typos for these sites can be quite large.
As a part of the decision, Facebook has been awarded nearly $3 million in damages, an award which attorney Eric Menhart says will probably never end up in Facebook´s bank account.
“They won´t bother to pursue it,” said Menhart in a statement to Bloomberg Businessweek. Menhart is a domain name specialist who was not directly involved in this case. Moreover, Menhart believes even if Facebook did pursue this award, the defendants in the case likely wouldn´t have the money needed to pay up.
According to TechCrunch, the judge has worked up a formula to decide how much each entity owes Facebook in damages. The penalties range from $5,000 to $1.34 million, depending on how many domains were held and how these domains were used. One party, “Newgate,” was charged with squatting on 50 misspelled or otherwise false Facebook domains.
Though tracking and charging these domain squatters may be a difficult job, Facebook seems willing to continue the fight and protect their brand.