Jason Cox of Albuquerque, N.M., Daniel Goggins of Provo, Utah, John Jonas of Springville, Utah, and Dan Brown of Long Beach, Calif. were named in the lawsuits, which alleged that the men had registered a total of 409 domain names that target Microsoft. Papers were filed in federal courts in Utah and California.
"Microsoft hopes to help Web surfers reach their intended Internet destinations," said Aaron Kornblum, a Microsoft attorney in its Internet safety enforcement group, in a statement. "Where you cross the line is when you misuse someone else's intellectual property in your domain name. Microsoft is aggressively targeting those who misuse Microsoft's intellectual property for monetary gain."
Kornblum said the four have violated 1999's Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) by registering domains with addresses similar to Microsoft's own, but misspelled (called "typosquatting") or claiming domain names that infringe on a legitimate trademark ("cybersquatting").
Among the domains listed as registered by the defendants are 1microsoft67.info, halo2player.com, freehotmail.net, genuinewindowsvista.com, and windowshome.info. [Note: Some of these sites were alive and online as of Tuesday morning.]
The lawsuits allege that the men made money by getting people to these sites that were filled with pay-per-click advertisements. That practice, called "domain parking," is not illegal in and of itself. In fact, last week GoDaddy.com, one of the largest domain registrars, boasted of its new Cash Parking program as "a simple and flexible way for customers to gain revenue from their parked domain names."
"Customers can do everything from start to finish " choose and purchase a domain name for $8.95 or less, put up a revenue-generating parked page and then use one of GoDaddy.com's feature-rich Web site builders to truly develop an online presence," the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company said in a statement last Thursday when it announced Cash Parking.
But combine parking with a near-to-Microsoft trademark and the software giant stirs.
"Microsoft has witnessed a virtual land rush for Internet domain names with the goal of driving traffic for profit," Kornblum said. "Placing a high profile or pop culture trademark in your domain name is a tempting but illegal way to generate pay-per-click revenue." The company also filed a separate "John Doe" lawsuit with a Seattle federal court, and will soon issue 217 subpoenas to unidentified people who have registered domains that reportedly infringe on its intellectual property. "This can be challenging, because some registrars have created services that protect the registrants' personal information at a minimal cost. The purpose is to unmask the now anonymous registrants of infringing domain names," said Kornblum.
Microsoft also promised to work to shut down online auctions of sites with addresses close to its own.
The lawsuits came out of research done earlier this year under the banner of the Strider Typo-Patrol Project, lead by Yi-Min Wang. In April, Wang's group posted a free tool, the Strider URL Tracer, that helps domain owners spot cyber- and typosquatters.