Goodies to Go (tm)
October 23, 2000-- Newsletter #103

By Joe Burns

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Goodies to Go (tm)
October 23, 2000--Newsletter #103
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Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

If you like to surf fast, go to an airport lounge soon. Three major airlines are working to set up wireless, high- speed access for their customers.

I grabbed Netscape 6.0 when it first came out. I was not bowled over, but then, I'm rather hard to impress. Have you bopped into Netscape's home page, Netscape.com, lately? If not, take a look. It's got the same feel as the browser. If you like, you can get Communicator 4.75. The pop-up windows wouldn't stop asking me to download it.

Vote early and vote often! If that sounds familiar to you, then you must have some connection to Chicago. Well, that old saying has gone cyber. A site, Voteauction.com, is causing a stir by allowing people to write in and bid for votes. Although it is meant to be humorous, the Board of Elections has sent a letter to federal officials to get the site shut down.

E-commerce isn't as advanced as they would like us to believe. The newest brilliant idea in Web commerce is to start sending out catalogs. I don't mean cyber catalogs, mind you--I mean honest-to-goodness printed catalogs on glossy paper. Look for one coming unsolicited to a mailbox near you. Is that technically spam?

Now onto today's topic...

Have you ever gone to Budwesier.com? How about Netcsape.com? How about Yyahoo.com?

Those of you who take joy in finding my weekly misspellings and letting me know about it may feel as if you're going to have an e-mail field day. Not so fast. The Web addresses above are misspelled on purpose. They're typos for the sake of typos.

One of the things I love most about writing this newsletter are the new words that people make up to describe cyber-events. If you're a fan too, here's another one to add to the list:

Typosquatters!

You've heard of cybersquatters. Those are people that buy domain names that are similar to an established company name with the intention of selling the name back to the company for a profit. (Yes, there are some that want them because they are fans, or for other legitimate reasons, but they make up the minority.) Lately there have been numerous lawsuits by major corporations to get the names back. Some win, and some lose. Sorry, Sting.

A typosquatter is a company that buys up domains that are close misspellings of actual domains. The idea is to take advantage of poor typists and spellers to direct traffic to another site. I've probably made a mint for these guys.

Before you tell me that only nasty sites are pulling this kind of trick, how about this one? For a short while, if you misspelled the Washington Post URL as Washingtonpos.com (without the "T"), you were sent to a page belonging to the New York Times.

There's a court case pending right now brought by Microsoft against three Los Angeles residents, Zvieli Fisher, Ed Fisher, and M. Zvieli, for buying up domains close to Microsoft's. The domains in question are: misrosoft.com and mnsbc.com.

So who's doing this? I found four names of companies that are buying up thousands of these misspellings: Powerclick Inc., Global Net 2000 Inc., Data Art Corp. and Stoneybrook Investments.

The companies make their money through page views and advertising. The usual deal is a couple of pennies for a page view, and then more on top of that for any advertising that might be on the page. Users usually catch their mistakes pretty quickly and leave, but not always. Sites that pay for the misspelling traffic have been known to do well in more than just the revenues from advertising and page views. People come by mistake and stay because what they like what they find.

So where does this leave us? You're probably familiar with the more traditional cybersquatting laws, under which those who buy domains identical to the names of companies or people can lose those domains under trademark law. So... this falls under that law also, right?

Wrong.

Here's the hitch. If you wanted to trademark the name MacDonald's, the U.S. government would most likely turn you down because it is too close to McDonald's. There could be consumer confusion. However, the laws set down by Network Solutions Incorporated (NSI) state that only exact copies of domains can be seen as confusing: for example, Madonna.com and MadonnaInc.com. Thus, I could go and get MacDonalds.com if I wanted.

In fact...someone already has.

To further the conundrum, a related legal precedent has already been set. A relative of typosquatting has already occurred in the realm of telephone numbers...and the phone- number squatter won the case! A company called 800Reservations Inc. created the phone number 800-H0TELL. The "O" is actually a zero.

Well!

Holiday Inn had a toll-free number that went 800-HOLIDAY. If you look at a telephone keypad, you'll see that it's fairly easy to misdial the 800-HOLIDAY number and get 800-H0TELL. It is so easy, in fact, that 800Reservations Inc. was making money. Holiday Inn wasn't fond of that, so they sued.

No go. The courts ruled that the phone -number squatter had not used Holiday Inn's trademark and that no one could be held responsible for misdialing on the part of the American public.

My guess is that the courts will rule in favor of the typosquatters as well. I can understand getting upset over someone buying your domain and adding a nasty word to the end, but can you really claim ownership of close misspellings of your trademark? One might argue yes, because the user's original intention was to go to your site and therefore his or her mistake was a loss for you.

If that thinking were to prevail, I wonder if end users could use it to their advantage. Could they ask for time back from a cellular phone company if they misdial the wrong number, because their original intention was to call someone else? What about those who pay for time online? Could any time spent in a typosquatter's site be considered lost time that didn't have to be paid for, since the user's original intention was to go to another site?

Of course not...on both counts.

In this case, the typosqautters have the domains by the tail and the tiger is leading them right to a huge mass of customers. I don't think there's anything that the courts can do except...

...force domains to pay to teach Internet users better typing skills?

That would shut down any lawsuits pretty quick, don't you think?

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

That's that...thank you so much for reading.

***Thanks to the University at Buffalo School of Law Computers and Law Web site for the Holiday Inn story: http://wings.buffalo.edu/Complaw/***

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The first toilet ever seen on television was on "Leave It To Beaver". The Cleavers were just as happy as you.

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