Telecommunications giant Verizon has won a record $33.15 million judgment against Internet domain registrar OnlineNIC for cybersquatting
The judgment, which Verizon described as the largest ever in a cybersquatting case, was handed down by the U.S. District Court in the Northern district of California in San Francisco.
OnlineNIC had registered at least 663 domain names that were either identical to, or confusingly similar to, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) trademarks, and the court concluded that this had been designed to attract people trying to access Verizon’s Web sites.
This is the fourth cybersquatting case Verizon has won in the past couple of years, Eric Rabe, senior vice president of media relations at the telecommunications giant, told InternetNews.com.
“We’re getting even more active on this because the problem has been getting more and more severe,” Rabe said.
During the presidential elections, for example, cybersquatters registered more than 1,800 names to cash in on the public’s thirst for information. Other major Internet and media companies regularly go after cybersquatters as well. In 2006, for instance, Microsoft filed suit against cybersquatters who had registered domain names playing off the company’s Xbox 360 and Hotmail products.
OnlineNIC had been registering domain names like “Varizon.com” and “verizoncellphonecompany.com,” Rabe said.
“The idea is that people making typographical errors when they search the Web land on their site and, if they click on the ads on their sites, OnlineNIC gets paid.”
There’s at least one way to combat the practice of capitalizing on typos, or “typosquatting,” as it’s known. CitizenHawk offers TypoSquasher, a software as a service (SaaS) offering that crawls the Web to find possible misspellings of domain names, identifies instances of typosquatting and sends notices of fraudulent activity to domain owners.
Not only would Verizon lose customers, but, if a link led to its legitimate Web sites, it would lose money because it would have to pay for that click-through, Rabe said.
In an effort to further combat cybersquatters, Verizon said it has activated several misspelled sites that it owns, including “Verison.com.”
“We had registered these sites to prevent somebody else from using them, but hadn’t used them ourselves, and now we’re turning them back on,” Rabe said.
While OnlineNIC is registered in San Francisco, it’s evidently led Verizon a merry chase, and its physical headquarters still has not been located. The company did not show up in court to contest the case, which was awarded to Verizon by default.
“We tried to serve them in a variety of different ways but couldn’t get to them,” Rabe said. “One of their addresses, for example, was a body shop.”
He added that Verizon suspects OnlineNIC has offices offshore, but has not located them yet.