A new client recently engaged our firm to handle an increasingly common problem: someone had registered a domain name that was almost identical to the client’s own website. The only difference between the client’s domain and the fake site was an “S” in the domain name, making it plural rather than singular. The imposter site used the name of the client’s business and featured content lifted directly from the client’s site, including the client’s actual contact information. However, the imposter site was littered with blatant appeals for visitors to buy specific home security systems, including Amazon Echo.
Our investigation quickly revealed that the actual owner of the web domain for the imposter site was protected by layers of anonymity, and the domain registrar could only provide us with the anonymizer that fronted for the actual owner. Because the imposter site did contain original copyrighted material (including photographs) belonging to our client, we were able to demand that the website host and registrar have the material taken down or take down the entire site under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. All of the protected material and the client’s name were taken off the site within 36 hours.
Even after these initial demands, the imposter site continues to use the domain name that is confusingly similar to the client’s business name and website Without initiating an action for unfair competition in federal court or an arbitration action to seize the imposter’s domain under ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), the client’s only hope is that the imposter forgets to renew the domain at some point. If the imposter site is generating any significant traffic, the infringer will maintain the registration.
To prevent this nightmare scenario, a good preventative strategy is to buy any domain names that are close to your own website name and then redirect visitors to the primary domain. Purchasing slight variations of a domain name, especially one that is regularly misspelled, can be very cost effective as many domains are available for less than ten dollars, or less than what a few minutes of an attorney’s time would cost. Adopting a comprehensive brand protection strategy when choosing a domain, including buying variations of a business’s primary web domain can minimize or even eliminate the risk of imposter websites diverting traffic and customers from your business. Don’t wait for a conflict to develop, take action now and be the master of your domain.