Cybersquatters turn to Net name game

Loopholes in the system to resolve disputes over Internet domain names are giving professional cybersquatters an unfair advantage...

Loopholes in the system to resolve disputes over Internet domain names are giving professional cybersquatters an unfair advantage in ownership disagreements.

The warning comes from the Australian lawyer John Swinson, who sits on international dispute-resolution tribunals for the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Swinson claims that variations in legal philosophy and interpretation among individual mediators leads to inconsistent results where factual matters are in dispute. He also feels that many cybersquatters are becoming experts in portraying a positive side to their own version of events.

"If a cybersquatter is clever at spinning a convincing story that can't be disproved in the time available to the panel, some arbitrators will give him the benefit of the doubt," said Swinson. "As a result, cybersquatters who learn the idiosyncrasies of the system can come out ahead by manufacturing a legitimate cover story for their activities.

"Among cybersquatters, the smart guys for whom it is a business are surviving - they are getting away with things."

Swinson is one of more than 200 individuals - typically legal specialists with an interest in technology law - accredited as arbitrators and mediators by the WIPO and by other businesses providing dispute-resolution services.

"My view is there are many people out there registering domain names improperly," says Swinson. "You can manipulate the system as a cybersquatter. They have seen where the loopholes are and manipulate them."

Swinson cites a case that he adjudicated this year involving a Las Vegas resident who had registered the name The man argued it was coincidence that he had acquired the name after the German company Schott Glas and the Japanese electronics giant NEC had concluded a joint venture pact.

But Swinson was able to prove that the Las Vegas man often registered names of recently completed mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. The cybersquatter had scored one victory from eight attempts, but as Swinson explained: "You only need one success to make up for the failures and turn a profit."

But with complaints not conducted in court but on paper, it is often difficult to take successful action against cybersquatters.

"When there are two conflicting stories and it is hard to determine who is lying, a lot of judges will maintain the status quo and deny the complaint," said Swinson. "So if a cybersquatter gets one of the judges to take the view it is all too difficult, he wins."

The WIPO has mediated in over 1,800 cases concerning generic top-level domains this year.

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