I am sure many of you read the article last week about M$ going on a crusade against cyber squatters. Great finally someone doing something about all those useless (albeit rich) rodents of the society trying to make a quick buck (or a lot of it) by getting a free ride on hard work (and not to mention trademarks) of others. But as much of a problem as this is, ie these folks trying to peddle spam and all other garbage, should Microsoft’s reaction become the defacto standard in the industry?
First of all, the money generated on such bogus sites (eg micrsoft.com or microsof.com) can be monitored and as a result the loss to MicrOsoft can be clearly evaluated. However, if you are stupid enough to end up falling for material on a squat-site, may be you are not the kind of material to be visiting MS? (wait a minute, I may be wrong about that). If cybersquatters are making money from typo-ed sites, then surely Microsof and Microsoft are completely different entities, so while this is unethical, clearly this is not legal (isnt that what we are all about these days?). Ofcourse, the easiest and most obvious solution is allow rich companies decide on what constitutes as law and in which situations these laws are applicable.
A more serious argument could be that a typo-ed site could be “sponsored” into redirecting a visitor to a competitor’s site. But how is this different from internet explorer redirecting invalid addresses to MSN.com? This is just free-enterprise. The legal boundary is crossed, when the typo-ed site is actually being used for slander and misrepresentation. But is this what the cybersquatters were doing?
An argument in favour of cybersquatting is that of free-enterprise and capitalism. The argument of free-enterprise goes something like “well they got there and bought it first so they should do with it what they can”. And to extend the argument, being a free market MS should have got in there first and bought out the typo domains as well. Surely microsof and micrsoft could not have existed before the real deal. However, the argument does not hold for common words. In this situation, the counter argument that unlike in a free market, the domains were improperly priced initially actually makes sense. But if common words had been used for company names, then companies registering these words SHOULD have gotten there first. If they couldnt, then why rely on common english words for a company name? How about being a bit creative about it for a change instead of opting for a easy hack? Besides how cool would “www.cool.com” really be?1.
What determines a trademark infringement? How would MikeRowSoft and MyCrowSoft be treated? With speech recognition becoming common, a browser could direct a search to one of these sites rather than MS. Should MS have the authority to deem these as evil and try to get them closed (after extracting all compensation ofcourse). At the end of the day, such battles will be one by the sides with the more expensive lawyers rather than being based on any sense of legal or ethical fairness.
1. Example taken from Paul Graham’s essay – “Why Smart people have bad ideas?“