What's a Web name worth? (National Post 2008) (1 Viewing)


Dec 19, 2020
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Throwback news article published in 2008 by National Post.

I particularly enjoyed the comments made by Bruce Holland.

What's a Web name worth?

Eric Lam

Publishing date:
Oct 05, 2008 • October 7, 2008 • 4 minute read

Vivian Risi went straight to court after she found out someone was using her company name as a Web address.

Vivian Risi was one of the lucky ones. The Toronto real estate agent discovered late last year that someone else was using her company name, Your Community Realty, as their Web site address. She found out because someone mistakenly entered yourcommunityrealty.ca(instead of dot-com, Ms. Risi's address) and was redirected to an ad-infested page headlined by a logo closely resembling Google's. Ms. Risi later suspected one of her former agents, who was advertising on the illicit site, was involved in the scheme. She called her lawyer and tried to get the man who registered the address, Ray Fattahi, to give up the URL. Instead, she got a fax asking for $10,000 minimum to buy it back. (Mr. Fattahi denied sending the fax.) Ms. Risi refused to pay.

"They could've dealt with this amicably but did not," she said. "I did feel a bit extorted when I got that fax." This past August, Ms. Risi got her wish but it took her more than a year and $5,000 in legal fees -- "not to mention manpower," she said. An arbitration hearing set up through the Canadian Internet Registration Authority's Dispute Resolution Policy (CDRP) ruled in her favour and ordered Mr. Fattahi to turn over the address to her by Oct. 27.

CIRA is a non-profit organization that maintains the dot-ca domain. There is also an international body, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that provides a similar function for the Internet as a whole.

"These people knew what they were doing and the only way to stop them is through the legal system," said Ms. Risi, whose case is a clear-cut example of cybersquatting, a common Internet phenomenon that allows people to buy up Internet domain names and hold them for ransom.

As increasingly businesses line up to get on the Internet bandwagon, the importance of understanding the nuances of domain names could make or break your company even before it gets off the ground.

"[True cybersquatting is] if you take a name that is confusingly close to the name of a business to mislead or confuse," said Byron Holland, president of CIRA. But as long as the registrant acquired the domain name in good faith, it's first-come-first-serve, central tenet of CIRA and the Internet at large.

"It's closer to real estate," he said. "If I legitimately acquire the name, then I have rights to that piece of property. But if party B comes along and says 'I think that's mine' they may think that but it's not necessarily true." As such, very few cases in Canada ever make it to arbitration, because the vast majority of victims don't match CIRA's definition of true cybersquatting. But those that do are usually successful.

In 2007, 15 cases were heard through the CDRP and 14 ruled in favour of the complainant. It's not just small businesses either: Research in Motion and Scotiabank both had to fend off cybersquatters.

But for most people, the problem comes when they want to start a business and the Web site name they're set on is taken. Mr. Holland compares it to a restaurateur choosing a good location. "That business owner is free to choose that corner spot, but is it worth it to me or not?"

In Michael Reich's case, it was. While Mr. Reich is American and his situation is not true cybersquatting, it does illustrate the cost of not planning ahead when starting a business.

In 2006, Mr. Reich and two others came up with an online game that simulated the stock market. They named their product Updown and started branding immediately. But when they tried to register updown.com, they discovered it was already taken by someone in South Korea. It took him $3,000 and a lot of convincing but Mr. Reich managed to wrestle updown.com away, switching over in January, 2008. "We aren't a big company, it's not like we have millions. Even if he researched us he could see we didn't have substantial resources," he said. Aside from the dent in his cheque-book, Mr. Reich is satisfied with the way things worked out. He's also learned a valuable lesson. "The decision to go forward with branding without knowing if we even had the domain was not the greatest idea," he said.

"First thing they should do, even before they name their business, is check to see if the name is available," Mr. Holland said. "[If it is] get it registered because every day that ticks by someone else might get it. It's a trivial expense that's incredibly important."

There's an extensive network of registrars in Canada who perform this function for a nominal fee, usually between $10 and $50. Registered domain names can last from one to 10 years. While the dot-ca domain is lesser known than dot-com, it also has increased safeguards, Mr. Holland said. "We've never had a hijacking in Canada," he said.

As well, only Canadians, permanent residents, legal representatives or Canadian corporations can register for a dot-ca address. This makes regulation easier as both parties are subject to Canadian law. Besides, you will have a better chance getting the name you want if you go dot-ca.

"All the good names are taken in the dot-com world," Mr. Holland said.


What's a Web name worth?

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