Domain names can suddenly turn into a major problem if you find out the name you want to use is being used by someone else. I’ve encountered this problem myself, and you can find some comedic irony when the other person with your name uses it in a polar opposite of what you do. In my case, I share a name with a well-known psychotherapist that’s prevented me from being able to buy the name you see attached to all my articles.
If you’re dealing with the same issue, what can you do to amend the problem? You have a number of different things you can do, though there’s potential legal risk under certain circumstances. It’s a risk you may have to take if you still want to be known for your name and not something unexpectedly different.
Options to Continue Using Your Name
The quickest fix if someone already has your name under a .com is to simply use a .org, .info, .net, or a .biz. However, this is going to be dependent on if your site really falls under these categories. If you just have a personal website, a .info would certainly work well, if even a .net. For a website that isn’t really a business, it might be a problem if your only options are a .biz, or a .org.
If you insist on using a .com, the only way you can legally take a domain name already used is to make a slight alteration to your name. This could be as simple as a dash in between your name, or perhaps adding your middle name so you can still be identified on search engines. Your only problem going this route is you open the potential for trademark infringement from the other person using the similar name. They may feel that too many people are confusing your site with theirs and leading to perhaps a loss of business.
While the above situation may not be overly common, it’s happened before and probably will again. In the scenario that they sue you, there isn’t much you can do other than change your domain name to something else other than a variation you already used. For the cases where someone else started using a similar domain name to yours, it can turn into a case that’s generally labeled as cybersquatting.
Dealing with Similar Domain Names
Rather than being a simple trademark infringement, a person using a similar name to yours could be using it in an attempt to profit off your respected moniker. This method of cybersquatting may involve more protracted means to prevent the person from profiting off your identity.
Your first step is to see if trademark infringement is involved. Even if that person happened to register the domain name at the same time you did, had you been using it first for e-commerce, you have the right to the trademark. This may involve a lawsuit that can mean the other person having to pay out money damages to you. It may mean you paying damages as well if it’s the reverse situation.
You should really try to avoid litigation, though, because it can eliminate any financial gain due to paying back lawyers. You can go through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to perhaps resolve the problem much more peacefully.
The Convenience of ICANN
ICANN polices domain name registrations, and you can go through their Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy for considerably less expense than going through litigation. Generally taking about 57 days for resolution, it works much like a trial where you have to prove the other domain name is confusing people, plus being used in bad faith. The ICANN board will determine this and make a judgement. If you win, the other person will be forced to remove that domain name and use something else.
For many, that’s all that’s necessary, especially if it’s acted upon fast before any financial losses might occur due to the domain name confusion.
But now you know that risk with domain names can sometimes turn into legal situations you don’t want. If your domain name is already taken, you may have to live with the fact that your brand will need to be under a 100% different name or term just for your own legal security.