Thursday, July 25, 2013


Cybersquatting has been around since the early days of the web.  Some are legitimate business practices, but many are unethical, unscrupulous, or downright mean spirited. 

Before there were websites were ubiquitous,   speculators bought desirable domain name and sold them to the highest bidder. Regulations were put in place to curtail the major abuses of that strategy.

As domain names were in place for a while pornographers would use automated software to grab sites that had followings, but accidentally let their domain registrations expire.  When people,  including children, went to a website they had bookmarked or found in a search, they would end up at a porn site.  Laws were passed to stop this sort of pornographic bait and switch.

Undaunted, the next generation of treasure hunters began buying up expired domains and using two strategies to generate revenue for the squatters. They would put up a site that had links to dozens of other print related services. Clicking on any of the links resulted in money being made for the squatter.

This kind of squatting is perfectly legal and actually a good business process if done ethically and within the scope of laws and regulations. Scooping up domains that have expired is fine as long those domains were allowed to expire intentionally.  However, people make mistakes and let domains expire accidentally.  When it is scooped up, it often results significant hardship and loss of income for the rightful owner.

If the squatter is contacted by the original owner, the right thing to do is to return the domain for the cost of registration and perhaps a few extra dollars for time invested.  However, sometimes domains are snatched up intentionally to do harm, or held for ransom.  To put it plainly this is at best unethical.  

When done by anonymous squatters who make their living that way, there is little that can be done. They keep domains that generate revenue,  abandon those that don't,  and hold hostage those that expired accidentally.

When done by individuals,  this practice very often backfires, resulting in considerable loss of customers as the victim's story is told on social media. 

Once in a while,  someone becomes an accidental squatter.  It happened to me.  About 15 years ago I was thinking about starting a web site just for people who have been wronged online.  I went to my registrar and found that NoMoreBS,net and were available, but was taken.

Since I wasn't ready to start the site, I just bought the two domains so that they would be there when I wanted them.  About two years later, while updating my domains, I noticed that was available, so I grabbed it.

About a week later, I received an email from the person who owned the domain and wanted to know what had to be done to get it back.  After talking with him a bit to confirm that he did have the domain previously, I told him to cut me a check for the $9 it cost me to register it, and offered him the .net and .org names for the same price.  He took all 3 and thanked me very much.

A few days later his check arrived along with a signed copy of a book he had written. When I saw it, the first thing that went through my mind was, "Boy am I glad I didn't act like a jerk!"  Up to this point I hadn't even visited the site.  I checked it out and while read his bio, I found that after getting out of the marines, with no college education he had an amazing career which included Senior VP of Telxon, VP of Worldwide Logistics for Compaq, Director of Distribution for Pepsi, and Area Manager for Frito Lay, just to name a few.

It was obvious that if I had been a jerk about returning the domain, there would have been a battle. No matter who would have won, we both would have had scars, but it wasn't his technical knowledge and connections that caused me to go check out the site, it was the book, Dead Center - A Marine Sniper's Two Year Oddessy in the Vietnam War. 

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