Someone Has Copied My Domain Name. What Should I Do?
A domain name can be one of the most important ways your business establishes its online presence. Therefore, it would be frustrating to see that someone has copied your web address. However, there is a chance that two similar domain names can be in use simultaneously. For this reason, this article outlines:
- instances where similar domain names are acceptable;
- dispute resolutions available if you have a dispute over a domain name; and
- ways you can protect your domain name from being copied.
Similar Domain Names
Before you decided on a domain name for your business’ website, you likely conducted searches to see if the website address already existed on certain databases, such as the WHOIS Service. This is because unique domain names are licensed on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis to individuals. Note that this process of domain name registration is different from registering your business name or trade marking your business name.
The domain you applied for would also depend on whether you intend to use your website on a domestic or global level. For example, businesses operating within Australia will have ‘.com.au’ in their internet domain names, whereas domain names with ‘.com’ can exist globally.
Since internet domain names can exist at different domain levels, it is possible to have a similar domain name to another business. For example, www.domainnames.com.au can exist alongside www.domainnames.com since the first web address exists in the Australian domain, whereas the second web address exists in the global domain.
There is also the chance that two web addresses can exist in the same domain with similar looking or sounding names. This is particularly common if two web addresses use similar names but operate in different and unrelated industries. For example, www.domainnames.com.au and www.d0mainname.com.au look fairly similar but are, in fact, different web addresses.
However, suppose your situation does not fall into any of the similar domain name examples above. In that case, there are several dispute resolution options available depending on the level of your domain name. The auDA, or the Australian Domain Administration, deals with disputes at the Australian level.
The auDA’s policy can apply when a domain name is identical or similar to your domain name, which you have rights to and the registrant does not. These rights include those acquired when you purchased a licence to use your domain name. In an auDA complaint, you can request to have the copied domain name deleted. As the complainant, you will be responsible for providing evidence to support your claim. This will include evidence that the:
- domain name is identical or similar to yours;
- person who copied your domain name has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and
- person registered the copied domain name in bad faith.
A panel will then review and resolve your complaint within 20 days. AuDA complaints often involve complex legal issues on rights concerning domain names and can become a costly process. It would be a good idea to seek legal advice if you want to pursue a similar domain name dispute.
Ways to Further Protect Your Domain Name
Once you have registered your domain name, you do not own that domain name like you would with any other piece of tangible property. Instead, you have an exclusive right to use the name in that domain for the period specified by the terms of your domain name licence. In this sense, you are not the owner of the domain name but a licensee of the domain name.
Although you are only a licensee of your domain name, a trade mark could protect your domain name. Many business owners choose to protect their business name via trade mark registration. Under Australian trade mark law, a registered trade mark provides you with the exclusive right to use, licence and sell the trade mark. If someone has a domain name that is the same or similar to a trade marked business name, the trade mark owner can complain to the auDA.
However, this protection will only apply to the ‘.au’ country code concerning trade marks registered with IP Australia.
If someone has copied your domain name, it is important to consider whether similar domain names can mutually exist. Domain names that can mutually exist are those which exist at different domain levels (i.e. ‘.com.au’ exists on the au domain, whereas ‘.com’ exists on the global domain) and domain names that sound or look similar but are in fact different. If your situation does not fall within these exceptions, you can make a complaint to auDA to request deletion of the copied domain name. If you need further legal assistance with domain names or opposing a trade mark, our experienced trade mark lawyers can assist. Call us on [numbers] or complete the form on this page.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the full address used to visit a website, whereas a domain name is part of the URL. For example, domainname.com is a domain name, whereas http://domainname.com/index.html is a URL.
You do not necessarily ‘buy’ a domain name. Instead, an accredited registrar can give you a license to use your domain name. If a domain name license expires and the licensee does not renew the licence, someone else can acquire the licence to use the domain name.
A TLD refers to the last segment of a domain name and typically includes .com, .net or .org. These are also known as domain extensions. On the other hand, an SLD is the part of a domain name that comes before a TLD. For example, in “domainnames.com’, the TLD is ‘.com’ and the SLD is ‘domainnames’.