Domain names and copyright: How to ensure you’re within the law

domain nameYour domain name matters. Picking the right name is key to helping your customers or readers (or both) to be able to find you amid the crowd. It’s your identity online and plays an important part in your branding. That’s why it’s important to register your name and take some time to pick the right one. (Hosting companies such as WestHost can help with this)

With that in mind, it’s only natural to want to protect it. You don’t, after all, want someone else to nip in and take away your business.

You might be thinking you’re protected by copyright here. You would, however, be wrong. There is no protection offered in copyright law for website owners. It doesn’t cover names and it’s therefore important to be aware that taking your site name might be possible.

So, what protection do you get? This comes from the law regarding trademarks.

As New Media Rights points out, you can make a claim that your trademark has been infringed if:

  • Someone has registered a domain name which contains your trademark
  • The name has been registered in a way to use your name to attract visitors
  • There was no legitimate reason for the person to register the name other than to take advantage of your trademark

The thing to remember is that registering a domain name does not mean that you own it. You pay money to buy the rights to use it for a period of time, which can be up to ten years. You have to renew this registration if you want to keep it.

The rules surrounding domain names mean that you can be challenged by another organisation if, as Law Donut states, they feel they have a better right to the name in question. You can also challenge others, if you feel that your domain name is unfairly held by another person.

The best way to avoid a dispute is to think this through at the start and avoid picking a name that is likely to cause an issue with an existing site. Although you won’t be allowed to register the same name as someone else, you probably would be allowed to secure a domain name that is similar to another – and that’s where trouble could arise.

That might, however, be easier said than done given the sheer number of sites that exist.

If a dispute arises, it is likely to be handled in the first instance by the domain administrator’s resolution procedure. These are broadly similar in nature and the person raising the dispute has to show:

  • They have a right to the domain name
  • That the person who registered the disputed name did so in bad faith

For Nominet UK – which handles .uk domain names – the initial mediation service is free but an expert decision costs £750 plus any legal fees that might occur. An appeal costs £3,000. It’s important to realise that the legal fees might well be significant – and that bigger organisations have the resources to engage in lengthy disputes that go to the courtroom. If your budget is limited, it might well be sensible to try to find a way around this before you reach a dispute.

So, in summary, you need to remember:

  • Copyright law does not protect your domain name
  • Trademark law might provide the basis for a claim
  • It’s important to pick a domain name that isn’t likely to end in a dispute
  • Disputes, if required, are handled by domain administrators but could end in costly legal battles

Share This:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin