Domain squatting or cybersquatting is the term used for someone who registers a domain that infringes on another’s intellectual property or trademark. Some squatters attempt to sell names back to rightful owners for a profit, while others use the names to deceive. Political domain name squatting has grown in prevalence and can even effect local candidates.
Celebrities have recaptured their own names that were being used as domain names. In most of the cases it turned out that the registrant (cybersquatter) was attempting to profit for the celebrity’s fame.
But what if you’re not famous (or famous enough) to argue that your own name is a trademarked term?
The U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) of 1999 is intended to provide protection against cyber squatting for individuals as well as owners of distinctive trademarked names. States have also taken action. For example, California passed the Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act which says that a person cannot register a domain that could potentially be used for political purposes intended to be used to mislead the public.
Even with these laws in place, some campaigns have taken extraordinary measures to preempt domain squatter problems. The Bush campaign did this prior to the 2000 election. While George Bush was still governor, his campaign registered all of the Bush-related names they could – including anti-Bush names such as bushsucks.com.
The average local candidate probably does not need to take those precautions. However, it’s a good idea for a candidate to register his or her domain (and have a website ready) BEFORE they announce their intention to run for office. We recommend, when possible, using the candidate’s name for the domain name – or a simple variation combining ‘elect’ or ‘vote’.
Dealing with political domain squatters
Assuming you are not famous enough to have your name equated with a brand, you still have a few options available.
Go legal on them. Have an attorney send a letter demanding that they cease and desist all use of the domain name, and to transfer all rights of the domain name to the ‘rightful owner’. This alone might scare the squatters into giving up the name. We recommend that you consult with a trademark attorney that specializes in Internet law before sending a cease and desist letter. A risk in sending a letter to a domain name owner is that you may very well find any and all of your correspondence posted and discussed online.
Ignore the problem. So they registered the candidate’s full name? So what? You move on to another domain and work with that. ‘ElectJohnSmith.com’ will probably work just as well as ‘JohnSmith.com’.
Keep an eye on any squatted domain name(s) and make sure it is never used for a website or used to redirect traffic to another website. If it does, you might want to go legal on them, particularly if there is malicious or deceitful intent.
There have been cases where a campaign insider or an outside supporter has registered a domain name with the intention of preventing the name from ‘falling into the wrong hands’. Then they turn the name over to the campaign when and if it is needed. Sometimes that works out best for everyone.
Odds are, if a political opponent registered a candidate’s name, they are probably doing it simply to harass the other side. Odds are, they won’t even do anything with it. Using the squatted domain for a website or to direct the traffic elsewhere would probably cause more trouble than it’s worth.
Other times, you’ll find some enterprising individual has snapped up a bunch of names related to your campaign. For example, they’ll offer to sell you ‘VoteJones.com’. But if your campaign is already using ‘ElectJones.com’, what’s the point of the second name? If you don’t want or need the name, let squatter keep the name and be out the $20 registration fee.
Besides, you have better things to do than get hung up about who registered what domain names. You have an election to win!
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