Choosing copy cat domains spell legal trouble for copy cats who want to try and cash in off of other successful websites. You would think that it is relatively rare, but it happens quite often. By definition, copy cat domains are domain names that have been intentionally chosen to emulate existing domain names that are part of established brands of someone else.
In many cases, legal troubles can begin immediately if the name is discovered to be in use by the primary domain name holder that a copy cat domain is emulating, or as soon as the websites for copy cat domains are indexed by search engines. Depending on the strength of the existing company or website brand, this could mean serious legal (and financial) trouble for the individual who attempts to use a copy cat domain for personal gain.
As an example, one obvious copy cat domain that would be headed for legal troubles for the copy cat would be 'cocacoladrink.com' or cocacola.org (instead of the owner's domain of cocacola.com). Another would be 'gooigle.com' or 'gookgle.com' or maybe 'gooogle.com.' In fact, back in 2005 there were several copy cat names that google sued the owners names like these, and won in court - but not after the copy cat domain holders had to spend lots of bucks in legal fees.
Yes, it would be great to think that you could get lots of traffic as a result of having a name that was very close to the actual brand name of an established brand, but using a copy cat domain name like this would definitely bring legal troubles to the life of the copycat.
I was speaking with a young web designer who I have worked with in the past - he actually worked for me for three years - who has been moving towards starting his own business. He is a bright and skilled individual with a great deal of potential as a programmer. He had designed his website and just recently reserved a domain name for it. He was very excited to tell me about it. Part of his excitement was that the domain name he chose really fit the image and persona of his business.
Unfortunately, the domain name he chose was identical to a domain name already in use. The only difference in the domain was that he had reserved it in his home country so there was a “.ph” (for Philippines) at the end of it. When I say identical, that is exactly what I mean. The domain name he chose was already in use and trademarked through the US Patent & Trademark Office. He even used the “.com” extension in his domain name – in essence, making it a copy cat domain. I won’t use the name out of respect for him (in hopes that he will come to his senses), so I will use “example” as the trademarked name, i.e. “example.com.ph”.
In his thinking – very foolish thinking – his choice was innocuous and not at all malicious. He just liked the name, figured since the owner of the name was in the United States that he could get away with using it, and truly felt that the real domain owners would not care or ever find out since their company was located in America and his in Philippines. Unfortunately for him, if he ever hopes to build a brand for his company using the name he chose, he will face some very expensive legal expenses as the owner of the trademarked name will most certainly sue him.
There is another undermining issue in using the copy cat domain that he chose. His business is for web development, and his ideal target market will be foreign clients (American and European customers). Most business owners would immediately be wary when they typed in the actual dot com URL without the “.ph” extension and found that there was a company in the U.S. that owns that name; or at very least, if they mistakenly typed in the name with a “.com” only, they would not come to his Website.
His justification was simply that his 'little tiny business' way over in the Philippines would not be in any danger of being caught using the company’s name that he had taken for his own dot com domain. This young programmer’s decision to move forward with a domain name selection that he knew was already a Brand that was being built by an established business entity was simply the result of ignorance and inexperience on his part.
I do not know anyone with any business experience that would knowingly take on a name that is already being Branded by another company and think that such a decision would not come back to haunt him (or her). Believe it or not, this guy really thinks (well as of my writing this blog) that he can build a company brand on the Internet using the same name as an already establish business entity in another country, and that he will be perfectly fine.
After about 15 minutes of attempting to shine some light on his foolishness, I decided that it was not worth an argument with him to convince him otherwise. Should he have even the least bit of success and secure even a few customers in the United States, it will be inevitable that the domain name name’s rightful owner will become aware of his illegal use of their trade name.
Ultimately, a law suit will be filed against this young entrepreneur for trademark infringement and deceptive business practice. I have known of instances where individuals were charged with fraud when potential clients of the rightful owner to the domain name were inadvertantly redirected to the ‘knock off’ business website that mirrored the tradename of the legal ower to it. Unfortunately for this would-be success story of a young entrepreneur, he will most likely end up paying the attorney fees, Court costs, and possibly even civil and punitive damages to the rightful owner of the name; and all because he did not have the good sense to understand the moral shortcomings of using a trademarked name.
The moral to this story is that as you seek to secure the domain name that you want to build your personal and/or business brand with, make it something all your own, and remember that a name when built into a recognizable brand, can be worth as much as any business that it can make doing business under that name. If you have a good business idea, and you really want to build your company’s Brand around this idea or service, choose a name that is NOT already in use, especially in the very same industry. Take the time to research and find out if the name (especially if it is a catchy one) is not already in use and trademarked.