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Controversial Anti-Cybersquatting Act in Senate Hearings

The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act faced strong criticism this week as it made its way through hearings before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The bill, drafted to make it illegal to register a trademarked domain name with the intent to sell it later, is being called unneccessary and even harmful by critics.

Michael Froomkin, a professor of law at the University of Miami, Florida, called the bill badly flawed legislation. Froomkin cites language in the bill which suggests it would be a felony to include a trademarked name not only in a domain name but also in a file or page name at a Web site.

According to Froomkin, the bill is "too much, too late."

"The great irony is [that] NSI announced that they're going to start charging in advance for domain names, which will do more to stop cybersquatting than any bill every could," said Froomkin. "When the problem cybersquatting just shrank enormously, they're going out with this Draconian, badly crafted bill."

Froomkin likened the act to "a runaway train" which will easily pass through the "usually more reasonable" Senate because of leadership support. Because such legislation usually passes faster in the House than in the Senate, the pace of approval is also bad news, he added.

Witnesses at the Senate hearings included Anne Chasser, president of the International Trademark Association; Gregory D. Phillips, an attorney representing Porsche Motor Cars in its famous lawsuit against cybersquatters; and Christopher B. Young, the CEO and co-founder of online trademark protection company Cyveillance Inc.

But even some corporate trademark attorneys think the Senate's cybersquatting bill is problematic.

"Although I certainly understand the desire of trademark owners to legislate this thing, I guess I'm personally just a little leery about something that is still really playing itself out in the courts, and I think the courts have done a decently good job at this," said Neal Greenfield, a trademark lawyer with Amster, Rothstein & Ebenstein and the author of Trademark Law and the Internet.

"I would hate to see it be something where you can just easily categorize anybody's use of a particular string into cybersquatting."

Christopher D. Young, president and co-founder of Cyveillance Inc. spoke in support of the Hatch-Leahy substitute bill, saying cybersquatting and other types of fraud are proliferating on the Internet.

Young said that the Web is still the "wild West" with few rules or guidelines.

Fellow proponents of the bill Chasser called the legislation "effective, yet even-handed."

Under the act, repeat offenders could be fined up to $300,000 for each violation.