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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: No Quick Fix for Web Squatters




It presumably comes as no surprise to major international businesses here that the .ru domain is plagued by cybersquatters.


Across the World Wide Web, rights to domain names are a major legal battleground. Major companies that have invested massive amounts over the years in brand names and trademarks are fighting for what they see as their rightful place on the Internet.


Their opponents are a range of smaller entrepreneurs who woke up to the Internet's potential earlier than the giants of established business and feel they have every right to the domain names they have registered, or at least to a fair reward for their ingenuity.


Web users are entitled to expect that when they go to kodak.ru, mercedes.ru, putin.ru and so on, they will find there an appropriate site in the hands of the appropriate owners. However, many disputes are more complicated.


Consider the dispute between a single-employee consulting firm called Clue Computing, which owns the domain name Clue.com, and multibillion-dollar toy maker Hasbro, which makes the mystery board game Clue and sued the consultancy to try and wrest the name away from it.


Clue Computing has won early victories in the case, which is now pending appeal. A U.S. district judge last September rejected Hasbro's plea, based on the lack of overlap between the services offered by Clue Computing and Hasbro.


Or consider another case.


A few years ago, the St. Petersburg Times, Florida, wrote to The St. Petersburg Times, Russia, a sister publication to The Moscow Times, insisting that the paper relinquish its address of www.sptimes.ru, because it was confusing to consumers and a potential infringement of the U.S. paper's rights.


The St. Petersburg Times, Russia, wrote back urging that the Florida paper instead change its town's name, because the Russian city of St. Petersburg was founded well before the Florida one. No legal action was ever taken in that dispute.


There are no easy solutions to these complicated conflicts. The best way to deal with them is to create a legal framework to cover such disputes and then leave it to the courts - or the parties themselves - to decide.


Russia's regulators instead are leaning toward measures that will place the country's netizens ever more firmly in the heavy hands of the nation's bureaucrats.


With government employees' appalling record of bias and bribabillity, such an approach is unlikely to bring any peace or clarity to disputed cyber-domains. What it will do is intensify the state's already stifling grip on Internet activity.


- Garfield Reynolds