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What if… Bob already took your domain name?

23 August 2019

Imagine: you establish a company. Of course this includes a website and a domain name that refer to your company, product or service. It's possible someone already registered your preferred domain name. Just like in 1996 when Bob registered windows2000.com and unintentionally put one over on Microsoft.

Animal rights organisation PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) did not have access to the domain name peta.org when it was founded. A certain Michael Doughney had registered this domain name in 1995 for his parody website 'People Eating Tasty Animals'. PETA did not see the joke, went to court and won the right to the domain name. PETA did not receive the claimed damages and also had to pay the court costs, because the judge ruled there was no malicious intent in Doughney's action.

‘I'd like to buy a vowel’

Initially, Facebook was called The Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues soon regretted the ‘The’, but unfortunately they didn't have the money to buy the domain name facebook.com from the then owner. In 2005 money was no longer an issue for Facebook and Mark bought the domain name for 200,000 dollars. 

Twitter's story is pretty much the same. The company has always been called Twitter, but the domain name twitter.com was owned by an avid bird lover when it was founded in 2006. That's why it chose the domain name twttr.com. Over time, founder Evan Williams had saved up enough to buy some vowels. He bought the domain name Twitter.com for 7,500 euros.

Bob.com

Bob Kerstein was somewhat of a visionary in 1996. The internet was in its infancy, but nevertheless Bob registered the domain name windows2000.com. He wanted to put a gigantic feed of thousands of webcams all over the world on that domain name. A window to the world in other words.

When Microsoft started working on Windows 2000, it really needed that domain name. Bob, who was not entirely innocent and also owned broadband.com, dividend.com, streetmap.com, englishman.com, gave the name to Microsoft in exchange for the domain name bob.com - which happened to be owned by Microsoft - and an amount that he himself says was 'not life changing'. Everyone happy.

‘Not interested in the internet’

Former MTV VJ Adam Curry was the first person to buy a domain name on his own initiative for the company he was working for. He bought mtv.com in 1993 with the knowledge of his employer who, according to him, had no interest in the internet or in the domain name. That soon changed when Curry left MTV in 1994. The channel wanted the domain name after all. Curry refused and it ended in a lawsuit. Curry had to sell the domain name for an undisclosed amount.

The first person who deliberately bought a domain name to sell it was journalist Joshua Quittner. He wrote an article for renowned magazine Wired about domain name squatting and investigated how it all worked. In 1994, he registered the domain name McDonalds.com. When he contacted McDonalds to ask if they wanted to buy the domain name, McDonalds' first reaction was "Are you finding that the Internet is a big thing?" This now seems to be a hilarious blunder of the fast food chain, but in 1994 it was still an understandable reaction. In the end, Quittner sold the domain name to McDonalds and donated the profits (3,500 dollars) to charity.

Nissan v. Nissan

American-Israeli entrepreneur Uzi Nissan has owned a computer company, Nissan Computers, since the 1980s. In 1994 he registered nissan.com for his company. The Japanese car manufacturer of the same name already used the name Nissan, but imported its cars into Europe and America as Datsun. The interest in the domain name and the internet as a whole, was rather small. 

That changed over the years and Nissan (the car manufacturer) claimed the domain name of the other Nissan (the entrepreneur). After a lawsuit that lasted no less than eight years, it was decided the entrepreneur had not been guilty of cybersquatting and was allowed to keep the domain name. The car manufacturer had to drop the 10 million dollar damage claim. 

Although Mr Nissan won the lawsuit, he had paid 3 million dollars in legal fees over the years. The lawsuit also ruined his business because he spent all his time on the lawsuit. You will see when you surf to www.nissan.com: the man doesn't even have enough money for a proper web designer. ‘Had I known, I would have just given them the domain name immediately', he said after the court's verdict.

Ahhhhh….com

And a little advice to end. Companies should be forward thinking and already register domain names of possible products and services they want to launch in the future. This avoids long lawsuits, damage to their image and an excessive price for a domain name.

Coca-Cola understood this all too well. For a campaign in 2013 the company registered ah.com, ahh.com, ahhh.com and up to as many as 62 h’s. You weren’t going to cash in on their drinking customer experience at the time through a domain name.

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