Cyber-Squatter Bill Comes Up Short

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing a bill that would prevent cyber-squatters from holding a company’s trademark hostage.

The bill is a reaction to a spate of occasions where people have tried to extort money from big corporations by registering Web addresses that are similar or identical to their corporate names.

Morgan Stanley Sues

For instance, it was reported earlier this week that Morvgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. filed suit against the 17-year-old creator of a downhill biking Web site, claiming that the domain name infringed upon the investment banker’s “MSDW” trademark.

In published reports, Ivan Wong of Hillsborough California, said his site initials stand for “Mud Sweat’s Downhill World,” the name of the store that sold him his mountain bike.

However, in the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Morgan Stanley takes issue with Wong’s explanation.

Morgan Stanley contends that the boy’s site didn’t even appear until the lawsuit was filed. Furthermore, the suit alleges that the boy’s father has registered dozens of Web addresses using the names of other prominent investment bankers.

Evict Cyber-Squatters

If Morgan Stanley’s allegations turn out to be true, then I’m all for the swift eviction of such cyber-squatters. I’d also like to see them forfeit their registration fee and be slapped with a stiff fine.

Why am I being so tough?

I take this stand simply because it seems that the prevailing concept among some in our society is that it is permissible to milk a public company for all it is worth. What’s more, it is this kind of mentality that contributes to making the U.S. one of the most litigious countries in the world.

Protect Rich And Famous

Strangely, even though most members of Congress have wholeheartedly embraced the part of the bill that would protect corporations from this kind of cyber-mugging, they have been reluctant to give the same sort of protection to celebrities.

For instance, Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia said that if the legislation were to cover the names of famous people, it could raise First Amendment issues.

To bolster his argument, Boucher said there would be nothing he could do if someone decided to register a Web page called www.rickboucher.com.

Not the Sam

While I have to give Boucher an “A” for effort, I think he missed the point entirely. The fact of the matter is that few people outside of his district even know who Boucher is.

So the chance of someone creating a Web page using his name is remote.

I believe that celebrities deserve the same protection that corporations will get, because individuals who cyber-squat on a celebrity’s name do it for the same reasons that corporate cyber-squatters do: They want to squeeze money out of the rich and famous instead of earning it honestly.

I think they should be stopped.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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