U.N. Fights Cybersquatting

G E N E V A, June 9, 2000 -- Cybersquatters — Net users who registerfamous names in the hope of a fast buck — may find their daysare numbered as celebrities and companies flock to a U.N.arbitration system to evict them from Internet addresses.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), thespecialized United Nations copyright and trademark agency thatruns the arbitration service, said almost 600 cases were filedwith its global online arbitration service to fightcybersquatting since its creation in December.

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

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

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

Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, Julia Roberts, last weekevicted a cybersquatter who had registered juliaroberts.com asan Internet domain following a ruling by WIPO. In May, novelistJeanette Winterson won the right to regain control of threesites bearing her name following a WIPO ruling.

The growing use of the WIPO service is a blow to the boomingcybersquatting market and registration of other famous names —such as Leoblair.com by a British teacher minutes after the nameof 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 andindividuals to avoid costly lawsuits.

Key Question

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

Companies that have won back their names from allegedcybersquatters following rulings from WIPO include ChristianDior, Nike, Deutsche Bank and Microsoft.

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

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

In new trends, WIPO said more and more sports-related caseswere being filed. Cases pending included worldcup2002.com anduefachampionsleague.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 farwith 299 cases and half of all the respondents with 332 cases.

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