How can you protect your brand online if new domains are created?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

This week I met with a company who are leading the line in the protection of domains and the creation of new addresses.

This week I met with a company who are leading the line in the protection of domains and the creation of new addresses.

Charlie Abrahams, vice president and general manager EMEA at MarkMonitor, a member of ICANN, explained that the company helps brands protect their identities online and it works with banks and brands that have problems with other domains using their logos illegally.

Abrahams said: “We work for brand owners to find sites and deal with them, offering litigation and trying to reclaim it.”

The last time SC reported on ICANN it was with regards to plans for new domains. Abrahams explained that currently there are only 21 global top level domains, but 18 months ago ICANN passed a resolution to allow for an unlimited number of them.

Abrahams said: “They passed a motion to apply for this from the start of this year but we objected to it, as we felt it increased the possibility to infringe trademarks – such as with hsbc.bank. It will increase costs and owners will have to control all domains for the defence of the registrations, as there are more places for infringers to hide.

“Somebody else would get .barclays and sell it back to Barclays in the future, that is less of a concern as the costs can be high and it needs to be running for more than ten years, so that could be more than $1 million, and for a criminal this is a higher level of entry.”

He claimed that this has been problematic, as ICANN is now on the third draft of the applicant guidebook and issues need to be resolved. This was postponed in the last month for the last draft but now it has slipped back six months.

In regard to the benefits of the new domains, this will allow ICANN to control who the new registrants are and they will be able to vet who gets anything with a brand name and check it is genuine.

The largest challenge for companies in terms of domain names is copyright. One option is a company buying another domain and directing traffic to its primary website. Abrahams said that this is a possibility but rebranding is ‘a lot of effort and this is not the time for big cost. It is more about not missing out than getting the benefit'.

What are the options for shutting down other sites that may infringe copyrights? Abrahams said that someone can go to the hosting ISP and ask them to take the site down, and typically ISPs are pretty responsive and deal with the issue quite quickly.

When a site is hosted abroad, Abrahams said that it will try to educate the registrars to not allow them to host the websites, but if there is a problem it can go to ICANN and try to get the process streamlined, as a typical process is quite lengthy.

If a host is less responsive to requests, Abrahams said that there will be a defined semi-legal process and arbitration process. He also said that there are instances where people get a desirable domain by paying for it and this has led to instances of people buying sites for high amounts of money.

Abrahams said: “You can assess the value of a website by its traffic and know what it is worth. The infringer has to give it up as they are using a traditional name and photos so you can get it from them, but do not kill the site as it has traffic. The site is working but killing will work against you as the marketing department is looking for traffic.”

The other dilemma is with phishing sites, but as detection shows, these sites are only online for a few hours, a day at most. Abrahams admitted that phishing is a huge cost to banks but they have got better at shutting sites down.

He said: “Whilst the volume of sites have gone up the cost has gone down, but this is always an ‘arms race'. It is easier to shut down a site if they come up with malware but each side is leapfrogging the other.

“Our mantra is ‘prevent, detect, respond'. Get the right domain in the first place, look for infringements and ask for them to be taken down. It is more about brand infringement as a brand will be facing thousands of infringements at any one time.”

Another option is to follow the lead of Kevin Ham, who spotted the availability of .cm so went to the Cameroon government and put in a request to set up domains. This has led to a wealth of domains with spelling mistakes being established. Abrahams said that this was 'very clever because domain only costs £10 a year and it doesn't cost much to get your money back'.

Although this was thrown into debate this week, following news that Cameroon was the ‘riskiest country domain' this year according to McAfee, with 36.7 per cent of the .cm domain posing a security risk. Proof that shopping around and monitoring both what you have and what others have that relates to you is the best tactic.

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