In 2006, Democratic candidate for Congress Rick Bolanos filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla's campaign illegally bought at least a dozen Web sites Bolanos would have used for his campaign's online site. Bolanos accused Bonilla of cybersquatting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, used with permission from The Associated Press.)
Cybersquatting has been defined as “the deliberate, bad faith, and abusive registration of Internet domain names in violation of the rights of trademark owners” (Holland 2005: 307).
Cybersquatters register domain names in violation of trademark laws
While cybersquatters claim protection under the First Amendment, they sometimes run afoul of trademark laws.
Cybersquatters sometimes attempt to be the first to register domain names for the purpose of selling the names to others.
Cybersquatters and variants might claim First Amendment right to expression
Holland (2005) observes that “typosquatting,” a variant of cybersquatting, occurs “when a party registers a domain name that is very close to another’s trademark or name for the purpose of capitalizing on an Internet user’s typographical errors when entering a web address” (p. 308).
In a similar vein, “cyberjesters” and “cyberzealots” attempt “to make humorous or political statements about the trademark holder,” and “cyberpornographers” or “cyberopportunists” seek “to capitalize on the goodwill of the trademark holder to steer internet users to pornographic web sites” (p. 308).
Normally aggrieved parties claim that cybersquatters have violated trademark or other generally applicable intellectual property laws, while the cybersquatters claim they have a First Amendment right to parody or express themselves by using a particular domain name.
Early efforts to regulate cybersquatting referred to the Lanham Act of 1946, which attempted to protect trademarks.
Anti-cybersquatting law combats trademark appropriation on the Internet
In 1999 Congress adopted the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), which permits civil suits against individuals who engage in “bad faith” attempts to appropriate the trademarks of others into their domain names without approval.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization, has established and approved the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to resolve domain name disputes.
John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.Send Feedback on this article