A Tale of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking

There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking of a great domain name, only to find someone else has already bought it. You have probably heard of cybersquatting, where someone buys a domain name that should rightfully belong to someone else. This might sound unusual, but cybersquatting generally occurs when someone buys a trademark as a domain name.

For example, if you created the company ExampleName, and you then bought the domain name ExampleName.com, you might also want to buy the other extensions of the name. If someone else managed to buy ExampleName.co.uk before you, for example, they’d be deemed to be cybersquatting. People sometimes do this with the hope of selling the name to the trademark owner… albeit for a hefty fee, of course.

So, where does reverse domain name hijacking come in?

An example of this occurred recently when an animation studio called Titmouse attempted to bring a complaint against a would-be ‘cybersquatter’ who owned the .com version of the domain. Titmouse operated under the .net version and obviously wanted to buy the .com as well.

Nothing wrong so far. However, Titmouse would need to prove that the .com owner was indeed cybersquatting. To do this, they’d need to prove the owner bought the domain after Titmouse was formed. Unfortunately, the result of the complaint went in favour of the .com domain owner. They had registered the titmouse.com domain two years before the animation studio was created. The studio claimed they had first used the name as a trademark some six years previously. However, with nothing to back up that statement, it could not be used as proof of cybersquatting.

Put simply, the World Intellectual Property Organization deemed that without evidence to support their case, Titmouse had essentially attempted to reverse hijack the domain name they wanted to buy.

As we can see from this example, ownership of the domain always comes first. Since the .com owner in this case bought the domain name two years before the complainant formed the animation studio, they were not cybersquatting. It simply wasn’t possible for this to be the case.

Of course, there is nothing to say that the party that wants the domain name should not enter into negotiations with the holder of that domain. And indeed, this did occur in this situation, several years prior to the cybersquatting claim brought by Titmouse. But as we can see in this instance, evidence must be available to support the claim. The WIPO panellist dealing with the case found that no such evidence existed, and therefore the defendant was not cybersquatting and was perfectly entitled to hold that domain name.

We don’t hear of too many of these cases online today, although they do certainly happen. They’re interesting to read about too, as it all comes down to dates. We’ll keep you up to date with any similar cases as we hear about them. Remember, if you want to get hold of a domain name that someone else already owns, speak to us for more information on how we can help.