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Israeli Internet Society Stops Snapple Cybersquatter

JERUSALEM - Potential cybersquatters beware: Your gold-digging ways are not going to be welcomed in Israel.

That is, in essence, the message handed down in a recent ruling by the Israeli Internet Society's (ISOC-IL) Advisory Committee Panel (ACP) in the case of Snapple Beverages against a holder of the domain name Snapple.co.il.

Cybersquatting is the practice of registering a domain name of a company or product with the intention of later selling it to a company at a exorbitant rate. The term can also refer to the misrepresentation of a registered trademark in a domain name.

"Cybersquatting is no more or less prevalent in Israel than anywhere else," says Doron Shikmoni, president of the ISOC-IL. In sheer numbers, there are fewer cases, but Israel is a smaller market, he says.

As the body in charge of registering domain names in Israel, the ISOC-IL is often asked to mediate domain name disputes through its panel instead of through costly litigation.

"I believe mediating is much better than court action," Shikmoni says, "It's cheaper, and usually it's faster."

In the Snapple case, the Snapple Beverage company challenged the legitimacy of Sara Vidal to hold the domain name, Snapple.co.il. Vidal claimed to have registered the name in August, 1999 as a web site for a consulting company, Snapple Consulting. Vidal argued that there was no misrepresentation involved, because a message on the web site explicitly explained that the site was not related to the Snapple Beverage company, and in fact linked back to that site.

Snapple Beverages countered that Vidal had been providing consulting services from an alternate site with a different name and challenged the authenticity of Snapple Consulting as a legitimate business. The company also claimed that Vidal had refused to transfer the domain name for a reasonable fee, which they said was further evidence of cybersquatting.

The ACP found merit in Snapple Beverage's claims. Most damaging for Vidal's case was the discovery that she and her associates had also registered domain names under several other well-known trademarks, such as coke.co.il, and hersheys.co.il. In addition, the registration of the Snapple domain name and the subsequent activity on the site suspiciously coincided with a stepped-up promotional campaign by Snapple Beverage in the local market.

While the ACP ruled against Vidal, she still has not exhausted her options. "The losing party has the option of trying to overturn it in court," Shikmoni says, "We always allow time for this before transferring the name."

Cybersquatting has not been a major issue for the ISOC-IL, Shikmoni says. It's now on the decline, something that he attributes to earlier mediated rulings against cybersquatters in Israel in cases involving Disney and Habitat, and court cases pressed by wireless companies Cellcom and Orange Partner.

"These precedents have discouraged people from registering domain names in bad faith," Shikmoni says. "It doesn't appear to be a good business opportunity to engage in cybersquatting anymore."