For those that are looking to register domain names to flip for profit, you may want to think again. Andy Hugh, an English entrepreneur from Great Chesterford, recently lost a case against Paramount Pictures and has been ordered to hand over his paramount.co.uk domain. Is this yet another sign that the end is near for cybersquatters?
For those that are a little confused, cybersquatting is the practice where individuals or companies register domain names due to their likeness to major brands. They hope to turn a profit by either selling the domains to the company behind the brand, or simply by repurposing the website.
Andy Hugh engineered Paul McDonnell, a domain broker, to approach Paramount Pictures in May 2013 and offer the domain for sale. The hired middleman quoted a price of £120,000, in other words almost $200,000. Unsurprisingly, Paramount rejected the offer and court proceedings began shortly after.
Paramount Pictures won the case, as Mr. Hugh’s registration of the domain name in December 2012 fell under what is known as “abusive registration”. Cases like these are becoming more and more common, with major corporations looking to stamp out cybersquatters and their attempts to make a quick buck off branded domains.
So how did the Courts come to their conclusion? Interestingly, a company called TagNames Limited had previously registered the domain as early as June 25th, 2005. The administrative contact was none other than Andy Hugh, pinpointing his personal involvement since the very start of the domain’s existence. The December 2012 registration was a transfer to a personal account, rather than a new domain registration.
This was in line with Paramount’s announced plans in October 2012 to build a theme park in Kent. The Courts saw a clear intent from Hugh to take advantage of the increased interest in a British .co.uk domain bearing the studio’s brand name.
Mr. Hugh was no stranger to profiting from cybersquatting prior to this move. The Courts found, through the use of the WayBack Machine, that the domain had previously been used to run ads for third-party websites and services. All of them were movie- or television-related, this meaning that Mr. Hugh’s defense that “paramount” is a common English word had severely weakened.
Furthermore, the Courts found that Andy Hugh is the personal owner or the administrative contact of over 30,000 domains. The reverse whois lookup that brought this information to light make the possibility that paramount.co.uk was registered naively and without malicious intent very implausible. It was ruled that the defendant was to transfer the domain to Paramount Studios at no cost to the Hollywood firm.
The Courts seem to be catching up with cybersquatters, as cases like these are not necessarily completely clear-cut. After all, “paramount” is not as clear a brand name as Coca-Cola or Kellogg’s, for example. Nevertheless, the case was ruled in the studio’s favor and Mr. Hugh’s defense rejected. It seems that cybersquatting is now a risky and potentially expensive game, rather than a sure-fire way to make easy money.
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