Have you ever visited ‘facebobk.com’, ‘facemook.com’, ‘wwwfacefook.com’, ‘ffacebook.com’ and ‘faecbook.com’?
Well, Facebook is suing the holders of these domain names and 20 others, accusing them of infringing its trademark. In its suit, the holders of these domain names were essentially referred to as typosquatters. This practice relies on typographical errors or wrong spelling made by Internet users when keying in a website address. Should a user accidentally enter an incorrect website address, they may be led to an alternative website owned by a cybersquatter.
There are a number of ways in which a typosquatter can benefit from this and among them could be traffic from the wrongly spelled domain name, especially if it’s from a site as Facebook.
But then again, could there actually be a reason to think that suits for typosquatting can actually be nothing more than plain harassment or bullying?
In its law suit Facebook claims, “(The) defendants’ schemes also diminish the goodwill associated with Facebook and its marks, injure Facebook’s reputation, breach enforceable agreements between Defendants and Facebook, interfere with Facebook’s business, and unjustly enrich Defendants.
“Facebook therefore seeks an order cancelling Defendants’ rights in their typosquatter domain names or transferring those typosquatter domain names to Facebook, awarding Facebook damages and providing other relief.”
Having looked up the domain names being contested in its suit, most of them already point to blank walls and there’s no way to see if there’s any basis for the suit, judging from the content of the site or whether the URLs were re-directed to another site.
If, for example, the domain names point to a site that looks very similar to Facebook and actually claims to be Facebook, perhaps there would be strong basis for Facebook’s claims.
Then again, if the sites bear no resemblance at all to Facebook, how does a company valued in billions of dollars actually lose money from such a practice?
Granted that there are people like John Zuccarini who owns over 5,000 domain names that are variations of generic names, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that others who own variated domain names are unethical too or could be profiting immensely from such a practice.
The concern here, really, is whether Facebook’s suit is an attempt to own the words “Face”, “Book”, its combination, and its various misspellings by denying their use by other people. If Facebook does win these suits, will this open up an avenue where other domain name holders can encounter suits for using the words associated with the words face and book.
Sites like www.facepalm.com, www.faceboink.com, www.bookface.com, and www.paysbook.com can easily find themselves in a tricky spot. A lawsuit can be a very costly nuisance and site owners who don’t have money backing them can find their operations shutting down.
Then again, on Facebook, you really don’t have to get sued to get harassed. As the inordinate amount of spam, phishing links, and malware that comes in rashes is enough to turn some people off.
But who really owns the words “Face” and “Book”? Mark Zuckerberg, I think, didn’t even coin the actual name of his site and its initial content was basically taken from other existing sites. Doesn’t this seem a bit unfair and hypocritical?
Paul Farol is a Filipino writer and blogger currently based in Manila. He is currently a media practitioner and is involved in community development projects in Northern and Southern Luzon, Philippines.