Status: Passed Senate Aug. 05, 1999 • Passed House Oct. 26, 1999. Pres. Clinton Signed the act on Nov. 29, 1999.
The World Wide Web is not immune from shysters looking to make a quick buck. In the mid-to-late 1990s organizations were recognizing that a web presence is a must-have. In order to have a web presence, businesses had to have a domain name, a web host and an Internet Service Provider. Web businesses such as “Godaddy” offered web hosting and domain registration. The development of software called “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) made it fairly easy to create a webpage, in some cases with little html code know-how. The name of your organization’s website ideally incorporates the name of your organization, i.e. microsoft.com. Let’s say your business, Widgets USA, decides to create a website. You settle on a clever domain name, such as widigetsusa.com. Your web host company says that name is already used by another company. In fact every combination of “Widgets” and “USA” isn’t available. You find out that the company that owns your name doesn’t make widgets at all. It’s licensed to an individual named Dennis Toeppen who claims to have registered about 200 domain names. (Toeppen.com) He calls this activity “domain speculation” and equates is with buying up property and selling it when a buyer needs it. Toeppen is only one of several individuals and businesses who register domain names in various configurations of well-established companies. These cybersquatter entrepreneurs are in the business of “selling” the domain name to the company. Toeppen was involved in several high profile legal cases when companies like Panavision decided to fight rather than pay.
The Harvard University Cybersquatting case presents a prime example of how cybersquatters do business. In the late 1990, Michael Rhys and Michael Douglas “registered more than 65 Internet domain names incorporating the Harvard and Radcliffe trademarks, including “harvardcampus.com” and “harvardeducation.com”… and other configurations of the Harvard/Radcliffe name. (The Harvard University Gazette, 12/09/99) The university sued and sought an injunction against the cybersquatters requiring them to remove the names from their websites, cancel or transfer them to Harvard.
The lawsuit was filed shortly after President Clinton signed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act* (S. 1255) on November 29, 1999, in order to combat this growing menace. S. 1255 was introduced in June 1999 by Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI). The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act makes the cybersquatter liable in a civil action by the owner of a trademark or service mark.
*In October 1999, congress updated the federal trademark protection, 1946 The Lanham Act, to include a provision for cybersquatting titled the Trademark Cyberpiracy Prevention Act. In some publications it is referred to as the Anti-cybersquatting Piracy Act. I believe they are the same act. It was passed the House Oct. 26, 1999 but was never passed by the Senate. It seems that it was upstaged by the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.