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  1. #1
    SitePoint Addict sportslitter's Avatar
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    Legal question about domain names

    I am just wondering some of the legalities of buying domain names. Is it legal to buy a domain name of an already established corporation or company, or do they have rights to it. Like when the internet first came out and someone not affiliated with Nike bought nike.com . Is that legal, or was the person forced to sell the domain to Nike? What if someone buys a domain name redsocks.com and then 4 years from now a business starts up under the name Red Socks and becomes a multi-billion dollar sock company. Will they be granted the rights to the domain name? Will the domain owner be forced to sell?

    I am interested in buying and selling domain names, but am trying to make sure I don't do anything illegal.

  2. #2
    Visit docquesting.com docquesting's Avatar
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    Good question I have two along such lines. I dunno what to tell you myself though. Note this may be the wrong forum to ask in.

  3. #3
    Put your best practices away. The New Guy's Avatar
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    There are trademark issues.
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    SitePoint Addict sportslitter's Avatar
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    I didn't know what forum to ask it in. But are there trademark issues if you own the site name before the Company is built?

    And what about buying domain names of people like billclinton.com

    is that legal?

  5. #5
    One website at a time mmj's Avatar
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    Getting legal advice on a forum like this is hit and miss. You might find that a lot of the advice you get is wrong, or misguided, or not applicable to the country you live in.

    I am not a lawyer, but I believe that trademarks apply within an industry, so you can use the same trademark as somebody else if they are in a different industry to you and there's no chance of them being confused.
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  6. #6
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    The simple answer is that it depends. It depends on how you are using the name, why you have it and how well known the name is. There are in broad terms three types of trademark protection -- infringement which stops me from using Nike.Com to sell shoes as if I was Nike or confusingly similar to Nike (such as a shoe store named Nlke.com). Marks that are famous (not just world known like Nike but famous within their industry) have special protections stopping people from more broad types of mark "confusion". Finally there is a law governing cybersquating which specifically stops people from registering a domain to hold it from its rightful owner for use in making a profit.

    That's the basic types of protection for registered marks. Companies that have not filled for a mark will often claim protection as well (and they may be granted it) using the theory of common law mark. This is of course harder to establish but still often used, especially by dot-coms.

    Getting back to your specific question, with names everything is first come, first get. If I register ghombasduis.com today and someone makes an international business with that name in a year, I can still use the domain I own provided that they were not using it in commerce before I registered the domain and that my use has not dramatically changed. For example, if ghombasduis.com was a site I used to blog on but ghombasduis, inc. was founded to sell soda, I'd have an issue if I started selling soda. On the flip side, simply because a company does not register a domain or a version of their domain (like nikeshoesforsaletoday.com) does not mean I can. A registered mark is a registered mark and infringing or creating consumer confusion (or the possibility there of) is a violation even if you didn't buy their exact name.

    Trademark law has been around for a long time so when the internet era came around, the rules were just modified and extended. This has created a lot of issues, especially with smaller or more generic names. According to the law (or what I know of it), industry, business type and location are all separators for trademarks. For example, assuming TedS was actually a unique name (which it probably is not and a name must be unique, distinguished or famous to be trademarked and have the trademark standup), one person in NY could theoretically register it to sell t-shirts under while another person in CA could use it to sell tshirts as well. Since the companies are not going to overlap there is little chance of confusion or infringement. Throw in the internet and that all goes away. There is only one xyz.com and regardless of if you are in NY or CA or even if you only sell to NY or CA residents, the whole world can now find your site. This has brought about a lot of suits between companies with two legitimate claims to a name. The WWF is a perfect example, the wrestling company and the environmental group both claim the name and for some time, and in the end, after some mutual agreements were made and violated one side had to change their name.

    Every case is different, and every name is different. Zigjf74g.com is a rather unique name, Avery Supplies is not. Even getting a trademark can be difficult if you have a generic name and that's why you see companies like Amazon Motorcycles with websites who are still in business. The name Amazon is clearly famous but it's hard to assert that Amazon is unique or special enough that another company in a completely separate field who has been using the word Amazon for a long time, can not do so anymore.

    When it comes to buying names to sell, the biggest issue is cybersquating. If all you do is pick up names of existing companies or celebrities to sell to them or to other businesses, you are probably not going to do well. If however you buy new names that are not protected, you are much safer. Intent plays a huge role here -- if you buy a name, don't use it, get a private offer and sell that's one thing, but if you buy a name and put up a for sale sign, it is entirely different. In one case you may have a positive purpose and a good intent to use the name legitimately, in another you probably did not. Offering your site for sale is a red flag, especially if that name is trademarked or similar to a trademarked name. Ultimately the best way to be protected is not to buy names to resell but to buy names which have no existing trademark, no close cousin (i.e. no one with a very similar name) and develop them. If you chose to sell the developed site, that's great, but you won't have a name that someone has a claim for and you will have a reason for buying the site (developing it) rather than trying to come up with an explanation as to why you bought BritneySpearsOnlineForever.com and put up a for sale sign the next week.

    Of course I'm not attorney and while I've spewed out a lot of ideas they are not actual legal advice. If you plan to go into business using a new name, do your research prior to registering anything. If you plan to sell domains and are considering buying pre-existing names of people or companies, speak to an attorney. Everything you read on this forum is speculation and suggestions, not actual legal advice and it should not be used to make a legal decision, ever.
    - Ted S

  7. #7
    SitePoint Addict sportslitter's Avatar
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    thanks ted, that was very helpful and much appreciated

  8. #8
    SitePoint Zealot chihpih's Avatar
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    check out www.nissan.com you will find the info there rather interesting
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