U.N. Fights Cybersquatting

Cybersquatters — Net users who register famous names in the hope of a fast buck — may find their days are numbered as celebrities and companies flock to a U.N. arbitration system to evict them from Internet addresses.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the specialized United Nations copyright and trademark agency that runs the arbitration service, said almost 600 cases were filed with its global online arbitration service to fight cybersquatting since its creation in December.

Reflecting growing confidence in the procedure, the arbitration center said that a record 172 cases were filed in May, up from 119 in April and compared to just 28 in January.

“The rising number of alleged cybersquatting cases shows the growing premium placed on domain names by companies and individuals operating in the wired environment,” said Francis Gurry, WIPO assistant director general and head of the center.

The Geneva-based WIPO noted a growing number of celebrities whose names are stolen by cybersquatters — people who register Internet addresses in bad faith — were now tapping the system.

Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, Julia Roberts, last week evicted a cybersquatter who had registered juliaroberts.com as an Internet domain following a ruling by WIPO. In May, novelist Jeanette Winterson won the right to regain control of three sites bearing her name following a WIPO ruling.

The growing use of the WIPO service is a blow to the booming cybersquatting market and registration of other famous names — such as Leoblair.com by a British teacher minutes after the name of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s baby was made public — by ordinary people hoping to make quick money by selling them.

The fast-track arbitration system allows companies and individuals to avoid costly lawsuits.

Key Question

The question of how best to hand out .com and other “domain names” or Internet addresses has been one of the key issues to bedevil the booming Internet industry. The system now is largely first come, first served, allowing opportunists to grab Internet addresses simply by being there first.

Companies that have won back their names from alleged cybersquatters following rulings from WIPO include Christian Dior, Nike, Deutsche Bank and Microsoft.

Among celebrities with cases pending are Tina Turner, Jethro Tull and the estate of the late Jimi Hendrix.

Of the 179 decisions made so far, 147 led to the transfer or the eviction of the alleged cybersquatter, WIPO said.

In new trends, WIPO said more and more sports-related cases were being filed. Cases pending included worldcup2002.com and uefachampionsleague.com for soccer and ryder-cup.com for golf.

Most Cases in U.S.

Gurry said the United States, the world’s largest “wired” market, represented over half of all the complainants so far with 299 cases and half of all the respondents with 332 cases.

Ironically, WIPO may have its own cybersquatting battle to fight. Wipo.com has been registered by a company called Domain Names that stakes out Internet addresses. A WIPO spokeswoman said the agency had no immediate plans to claim the address.

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