Sunday, May 4, 2008

Buying Domain Names

Dear Rich: I have a question. I've been buying domain names that are common misspellings of well-known online retailers and then setting up websites with Google Ads. So when someone types in the wrong spelling, they arrive at my site. Then, they can then click through to the correct company's site using a Google Ad. I got a letter from one of the companies telling me to take down my site and give up my domain name. Why? Sure, I make some money, but aren't I doing a good thing by leading people who misspell domain names to the right company? I'm so glad you asked. I can't tell you whether what you're doing is a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing -- let's leave that up to the Dalai Lama -- but I can tell you that what you're doing is called typosquatting.
A typosquatter purchases misspellings of domain name in the hopes of catching and exploiting traffic intended for another website. (It's been a lucrative source of income for many years.) Typosquatting is a variation of cybersquatting and if the company whose name you're exploiting takes you to arbitration under international domain name arbitration rules and proves you're acting in bad faith, you'll have to give up the domain name. If the company takes you to court in the U.S. instead, you'll have to give up the name, and perhaps pay damages. Some companies guard against this practice by purchasing the misspellings, such as www.amzaon.com (sic). Others have to chase down violators and either buy the name back from the squatter or go after them with lawyers -- for example, Land's End went after a typosquatter who purchased domain names such as www.lnadsend.com and www.landswnd.com and then demanded money for referring customers under the Land's End affiliate program. Nice scheme. (Land's End prevailed in the early stages of litigation, but so far, the company hasn't managed to acquire the domains.) Another unfortunate problem -- some unscrupulous typosquatters trigger malware. Arrivederci!