In the past we've written about members of Congress and other elected officials who do not own their names as domain names. In many cases, the officials' names have been registered by opportunistic squatters and host pay-per-click ads. But every so often, an official's name is registered by a competing candidate or the opposite political party.
The latest instance of this trend targets someone who is not an elected official, but a well-known Washington figure nonetheless. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) owns the domain name JackAbramoff.com, and Abramoff is none too happy about it.
Abramoff is a former GOP lobbyist who recently spent three years in prison after pleading guilty to two separate federal cases, one involving the submission of bogus loan documents and the other involving bribery of lawmakers and Hill aides. The DCCC registered the domain JackAbramoff.com in 2006, the same year Abramoff came clean about his corrupt dealings, and points it to a site displaying the message "We didn't forget, Jack."
According to Abramoff, he tried to get the domain name back "amicably," but the DCCC refused to give it up. Now he is threatening legal action.
Abramoff could have a case if he can assert trademark rights to his name predating the registration of the domain. To qualify for a trademark, Abramoff must prove he has used his name in connection with the public offering or sale of some kind of product or service in interstate commerce. Whether or not he will be successful remains to be seen.
This just goes to show, it's worth registering your name as a domain name early. You never know when something is going to make you famous.
Remember a few months back when online retailer Overstock.com started promoting a new domain name O.co? It began by touting it as its "new shortcut," but recently launched an advertising push declaring "Overstock.com is now O.co." It even had the name of the Oakland NFL/MLB stadium, the Overstock.com Coliseum, changed to the O.Co Coliseum.
But now, according to a recent article in Advertising Age, Overstock is backing off the O.co push, and returning to Overstock.com in online ads and television ads for the holiday season.
Overstock's president Jonathan Johnson was quick to point out that the retailer is not abandoning the short domain altogether – rather, it is just "stepping back" from it temporarily. Apparently, even though consumers appeared to respond well to the O.co ads, many were confused when it came time to type the domain into their browsers. Instead of O.co, a "good portion" of consumers typed in O.com. Like all one-character .COM domains, O.com is not available for registration. So Overstock has decided it will continue its transition to O.co, just at a slower pace; for now it will use the domain for international and mobile efforts.
When .CO Internet S.A.S decided to open up .CO, the ccTLD for Colombia, to second-level registrations by any person or entity in the world in July 2010, some began claiming that it would be a good alternative to .COM. (Previously, entities had to register domains at the third level, using domains like Domain.com.co or Domain.org.co.) And yet, even with a retail giant actively promoting a .CO domain name, many U.S.-based Internet users still default to .COM.
According to Opportunity.co, more than one million .CO domain names have been registered, but that still pales in comparison to the nearly 100 million registered .COM domain names. In fact, many established companies registered their brand names in .CO as more of a defensive move to prevent cybersquatting. While some newer ventures opted to go with .CO (perhaps because the .COM version of their name was taken), it's clear from the O.co case that the ccTLD hasn't really caught on to the extent that some believed it would.
I missed the Chicago-Philadelphia football game last night, so this morning I went online to check the score. On a whim I decided to type MondayNightFootball.com into my browser bar, thinking that there was a chance it might lead me to what I was looking for.
The domain directed me to a page on ESPN's website. At the top of the page was an error message that said, "The URL you requested does not exist, but you may be interested in the content below." That content below was a list of search results for the query "NFL." Since the domain redirected to an ESPN URL, I checked out the WHOIS records and found out that ESPN does indeed own MondayNightFootball.com – or at least, ABC Sports, Inc. owns the domain, and ABC and ESPN are both owned by the Walt Disney Company.
That made sense to me, given that ESPN has been broadcasting Monday Night Football since 2006. Out of curiosity, I went over to Google and searched "Monday Night Football," The first result? ESPN's Monday Night Football page, located at espn.go.com/nfl/mnf. So if ESPN owns the domain name MondayNightFootball.com, why doesn't it redirect the domain to the section of its website devoted to Monday Night Football?
According to Compete, the domain MondayNightFootball.com gets, on average, roughly 500 unique visitors per month, and peaks at around 1,600 visitors per month during football season. Based on our own research, we have found Compete grossly underestimates traffic to some domains, so this number could actually be higher. But what this means is, with a simple redirect, ESPN could drive, at minumim, an extra 500 to 1,600 people to its Monday Night Football page without having to create any new content at all.
I also checked on MNF.com, the abbreviation that ESPN uses both in its URL and in its television broadcasts. ESPN does not own that domain, which currently points to a pay-per-click site. During the off-season, MNF.com only gets around 200 unique visitors per month, but during the fall, traffic jumps to over 3,000 visitors per month. Many Internet users favor shorter domains (think AE.com for American Eagle Outfitters or UA.com for Under Armour), so it's not surprising that football fans type in MNF.com about twice as much as MondayNightFootball.com during football season.
If ESPN were to acquire MNF.com and redirect both that domain and MondayNightFootball.com to its existing Monday Night Football page, it could boost its traffic by approximately 4,000 monthly visitors (at least) during the NFL season. While this number is tiny compared to the total MNF audience, it represents a boost that ESPN could gain without any extra promotion or content development. The traffic figures also show that these domains are likely to be highly intuitive to a broader audience as well. This dual redirection strategy would allow the sports media leader to build up its MNF brand without losing the folks who prefer to type in MondayNightFootball.com.
And that means Monday Night Football's next big winner could be ESPN itself.
ICM Registry, the company administering the .XXX top-level domain, has announced that it received 78,938 applications during the Sunrise B Period, which ended on Monday, October 31st. During the Sunrise B Period, trademark holders from outside the adult entertainment industry had the opportunity to preemptively register their trademarks in order to block them from being registered as .XXX domains. (Sunrise A gave trademark owners within the adult industry the opportunity to register domains before ICM opens the .XXX floodgates to the general public.) Given the overwhelming response, ICM and its IP Rights validation company will likely be processing the trademarks and applications through the end of November. As such, the results of the Sunrise B period will not be available until early December.
Before .XXX, the most recent big Sunrise rush occurred during the launch of .ASIA in 2008, when trademark owners filed just over 30,000 registrations. With over double that number of applications filed, the .XXX Sunrise B registrations dwarf those of .ASIA and highlight how seriously brand owners view the .XXX space as a potential source of damaging trademark infringement and brand dilution.
Last summer, FairWinds published a whitepaper on the cost of typosquatted domains for the 250 most popular websites. Through our calculations, we discovered that typosquatted domains cost those websites, in total, millions of dollars per year due to unnecessary advertising costs, lost sales, and poor user experiences.
Yesterday, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story by Tom McNichol detailing the threat the typosquatting poses for companies. McNichol cited our study, "The Cost of Typosquatting," in that article to illustrate how pervasive and damaging the problem is. It's a great article that really gets at the heart of the problem, so we recommend giving it a read. You can also check out our most recent typosquatting study, which identified a link between social media typosquatting and online survey scams.
At the end of September, Interpol coordinated a massive, multi-pronged effort to crack down on illegal Internet pharmacies that peddle fake prescription drugs. A recent article in The Register describes how police forces, customs agencies, ISPs, payment processors and delivery companies all contributed to the effort that arrested suspects in 81 countries.
Another major contributor to this takedown was Nominet, the United Kingdom-based domain name registry that operates the .UK ccTLD. Nominet suspended around 500 .UK domain names that were associated with these online pharmacies on the advice of law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
Nominet’s suspensions are different from the domain name seizures carried out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division on various occasions over the past year. Namely, whereas ICE moved the seized domain names to its own name servers and displayed a notice of seizure on the sites, Nominet simply stops the suspended domain names from resolving to content, effectively shutting the websites down.
Nominet used the fact that all of the domains contained fake WHOIS information as justification for the suspension, which violates the registration agreement for registering a .UK domain. Additionally, Nominent is currently working to develop a policy under which law enforcement will have a more formalized process for requesting that domains believed to be hosting criminal content be taken down without needing a court order.
The proactive approach that Nominet is taking should serve as a model for other registries, both those that operate ccTLDs as well as those that run gTLDs.
Early last month, I blogged about Web.com’s acquisition of Network Solutions, the oldest domain name registrar in existence. Now, as of last week, Group NBT, a London-based domain name management and web hosting company, has been purchased by private equity firm HgCapital Funds. According to ShareCast, the terms of the purchase value Group NBT at around £153 million, or approximately $237 million.
Whereas Network Solutions boasted a high volume of non-corporate customers, Group NBT specializes in corporate domain name services. It is the parent company of corporate domain registrar NetNames, and also owns various domain name hosting companies. Group NBT does have a smaller non-corporate, or retail, business in the form of Speednames, a Copenhagen-based retail registrar that serves European markets.
In the post about the acquisition of Network Solutions, I speculated that a trend of consolidation within the domain name industry is emerging in anticipation of ICANN’s new gTLD launch, and the potential burst of activity it will yield. Group NBT’s CEO Geoff Wicks commented that the company will continue to look for acquisition opportunities to firm its “position as a market leader for domain name management services in Europe”. It appears that domain companies are indeed steeling themselves to be able to handle a potential influx of new business.
So the question on my mind is, which company will be next? The big companies are, effectively, too big: CSC has a larger business providing services such as “Registered Agent” service that are unrelated to domains, and Melbourne IT is a publicly traded company that offers a variety of domain-related services. On the other hand, many corporate services registrars are much smaller, even smaller than Group NBT’s NetNames. It is unlikely that they would be sufficiently valuable to investors like HgCapital. So that leaves MarkMonitor, which is currently one of the only private, stand alone, corporate services domain name registrars. If I had to put money on it, I would bet that MarkMonitor could be the next acquisition target.
As of earlier this week, luxury retailer Chanel Inc. has filed a massive cyberpiracy and trademark infringement lawsuit against 399 websites hosted on domain names that contain Chanel’s trademarks. According to Chanel, the sites have been selling counterfeit goods like shoes, handbags, clothing, jewelry and other accessories.
The lawsuit is seeking an order to seize the domain names listed in the complaint. Domain name seizures have been a popular tactic used by the U.S. government, especially the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, to shut down the sales of counterfeit goods and pirated content online. The attorneys handling the Chanel case also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tiffany & Co. back in April against 223 domain name owners. There are 19 defendants from the Tiffany suit that are named in the Chanel suit.
The lawsuit contends that the owners of these domains use search engine optimization strategies to rank highly in search results and make it easy for consumers to find their sites.
These two lawsuits are some of the biggest domain name-based lawsuits we have seen, and it will be interesting to watch how the Chanel case plays out. More than anything, instances like these should drive home to legislators the need to reform the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).
Today’s edition of iMedia Connection features an article by Taylor Frank, VP of Strategy and Development for DigitalDNA, a company founded by FairWinds that specializes in analyzing, developing strategies around and transacting on digital assets. Taylor discusses the great marketing potential of category-defining domain names for both new and established brands.
Because they often require less investment in optimization in order to rank highly in search engine results, category-defining domain names are highly valuable digital assets. And from a branding perspective, owning a category-defining domain allows a marketer to own that category, and position its brand as the definitive online destination for that category.
Taylor covers these and other benefits that category-defining domain names can provide to marketers, and illustrates each with apt, real-world examples. Check out his article over at iMedia.
George Kirikos, a well-known domain investor, sent me an email earlier today after reading our “Anatomy of a DNS Hack” post. He pointed out that one way domain registrants can protect themselves from these kinds of attacks are by using VeriSign’s Registry Locking Program. This program lets registrants opt to “lock” their domains at the registry level, requiring that a human being at the domain name registry be present in order to make changes to the DNS records. Not all registrars offer the VeriSign lock, but many do.
Thanks to George for pointing this out, and for reading the blog!