There is uproar in the blogger community with reports a high-profile mother-from-home style business has registered copycat domain names of bloggers and businesses.
This war has erupted in the blogger space, but the issues apply to every business with a website. What rights does registering a domain name give me? Can someone register similar domain names? Is this illegal? What can I do to protect my brand and help me get found online? There are legal and practical solutions you can use.
What rights does registering a domain name give you?
A domain name is your business’ online address. Each website has its own domain name, so it is distinguishable from other sites.
When you register a domain name you get a license giving you the exclusive right to use that domain name for a specific period. For .au domains this is two years.
Can someone register domain names that are similar to my business? Is this illegal?
Is this illegal? No, simply registering domain names that are similar to another business’s domain name, does not breach current Australian law. However, there are other serious considerations, including:
- Australian Domain Name Authority (auDA) policy applies to all .au domains and all Australian domain holders. Australian domain names may only be registered to Australian businesses. com.au and net.au domain names must be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark or closely and substantially connected to the registrant”. Failure to demonstrate this connection can lead to the domain name being cancelled, under auDA policy.
- Using another trader’s registered trademark in the registered classes may be trademark infringement and a breach of the Trade Marks Act 1995.
- Australian Consumer Law prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct, including false and misleading representations that one business has an affiliation with another business that it does not have.
- Using another trader’s branding and/or trademarks, even if the branding is not a registered trademark, may be passing off.
How can I protect my brand online?
There a several methods which together can help protect your brand online.
First, choose a brand that is clearly distinguishable from your competitors can be easier to protect and defend.
Second, include a copyright notice in your website terms that sets out your intellectual property rights. Your website terms can include permissible and prohibited use of your website.
Third, consider registering variations of your main domain name. There is no restriction on the number of domain names that a registrant can license, but bear in mind auDA policy for .au domain names.
Register your business trade mark to give you the exclusive right to use this trade mark as a brand name for the products or services specific in your registration. This is Australia wide protection.
Check for infringement. You can regularly check variations of your branding and trade marks, to see if a competitor is using your branding or trade marks.
Andre Weyher, our marketing director and an ex-Googler, has two key strategies to help you get found online:
- Site building:A correctly constructed websiteis a huge element of good organic rankings. Make sure that you choose your meta titles, descriptions and headers carefully. Include your brand name as often as you can. Invest time on social media to make sure that your audience knows that you are the real deal. If you run your site properly, the only traffic you should lose are the users that type in the wrong domain by accident. You should not have to worry about a copycat site becoming more popular that your original site.
- Link outreach:Good organic rankings includes other sites linking in to yours. The more websites that link to yours, the more trust Google gives your site and helps it rank higher for your key search terms. Be active in your niche and give others reasons to link to your site. This is a durable and positive way to beat a possible domain copycat situation.
We hope these legal and practical strategies will help you protect your brand and get found online.
Ursula Hogben is a lawyer and co-founder of LegalVision, Australia’s online business legal services provider. Twitter @UrsulaHogben or @LegalVision_au