Implementing a Cooperative Domain-Name Use
April 8, 2008
The essay expands a cooperative
solution to third-party use of brands in domain names. Like
any approach that depends on cooperation, the solution will require
both sides to change behavior but also allow both sides to take
credit for the resulting benefits, i.e. a triangular solution.
If not immediately addressed, the problem of third-party use can
become a major threat to the industry. But we already know one
thing: when it comes to this issue, legal action and bullying
The mere word "cybersquatting" stirs up emotions
in all of us. The term was first used to mean the simple act of
registering a domain name for investment purposes. We have anecdotal
evidence that anyone who wants a given name, and who finds it
already taken, becomes eager to lay the cybersquatter label on
all domainers everywhere and especially on the registrant. The
media also sprays the term about quite freely. But a more precise
meaning has won acceptance, and that's the one I use here. Currently,
it typically refers to the use and registration of domain names
that include someone else's brand or a typo version of said brand.
As far as brand owners are concerned, such
behavior counts as breach of trust (intentional or not) by the
name owner in particular and the domainer community in general.
The domainers, meanwhile, resent the tone taken by brand owners
and the media, and they have their guard up because of the techniques
some brand owners have used in trying to gain control of a given
domain name. Too often, domainers feel, brand owners have ignored
clear evidence that a domain name represented fair use and was
Our community resents criticism and resents
it fiercely. Anybody who has ever written about the domain name
industry tells the same story—introducing even a hint of
negativity into an article creates intense negative emotions against
the author and the publishing site. One reason, no doubt, is our
abundant experience with biased media coverage. But there's another.
At Stanford University, the psychologists Robert P. Vallone, Lee
Ross, and Mark R. Lepper studied perceptions of media bias regarding
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They found that people with
strong opinions on the conflict were more likely to perceive bias
in news accounts. Pro-Palestinian subjects saw a pro-Israel bias,
and vice versa. The same could well be true in our case. Polarization
creates an abiding sense of unfairness.
To reach beyond the polarization mindset, to
restore trust, we must set aside litigation and any attempts to
broaden the relevant laws (See Philip
S Corwin, "ICA
Posts Position Paper and Analysis of Snowe 'Anti-Phishing' Legislation,"
CircleID). A new approach is needed, one that allows both
sides to change behavior and brag about it.
The first step is relabeling. Domain name owners
should be seen as brand complementors because, when the
names are used cooperatively, they create value for both sides.
Next, brand owners should:
- Acknowledge that not all uses of brand names
in a domain name are illegal.
- Think forward, to the opportunities presented
by cooperation, and not backward to disputes over interests.
- Take into account the harm that legal action,
if undertaken, could do to value (See Alex Tajirian, "Don't
Litigate, Open Them Up!," DomainMart).
- Realize that underdogs, including domainers,
do sometimes win and Goliaths sometimes crumble.
- Forget about labeling a solution "sleeping
with the enemy" and remember that cooperation means there is
- Forget about confrontation and strong arm
tactics. Tough policing was not the main reason for crime's
decline in New York City. The Delancey Street Project in San
Francisco has shown the amazing things that trust and respect
can do in turning around people branded as hardened criminals.
Remember this useful proverb found among the Swedes: "You cannot
make yourself taller by cutting off the other fellow's head."
Now for our side. Owners of domain names—that
is, of complementors—should:
- Realize that some uses do indeed violate
IP and that vigorous legal action can be expected as a result.
- Look forward to a value-creating cooperative
- Recognize that even the use of a generic
domain name that doesn't contain a given brand can still enhance
a brand's value (See Alex Tajirian, "Generic
Domain Names Bolster Your Brands," DomainMart.).
- Acknowledge that lobbying is not enough (for
lobbying effort, see Corwin, supra). Additional instruments
need to be used to protect and promote the interests of brand
We'll know the new approach is working when both
sides can boast about how well they're making out. Brand owners
will point to the foresight and the courage to work for Me Inc.,
the shareholders, and the domain name ecosystem. Complementors will
point to higher legitimate returns and lower risk. Even the third
side of the triangle benefits, because what better place to boast
than starting with the media?
Topic tag: branding, corporate
domain management, cybersquatting, trademarks
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