Nowadays, your URL is as big a part of your business branding as are company and product names. Domain name protection is a fast-growing area of intellectual property law as the threats to domain names – which trademark often protects – are real and aggressive. A recent federal case in Florida illustrates one legal remedy that can help protect a victim of domain name cybertheft.
An internet-based auto parts export company successfully went to court to request a temporary restraining order, or TRO, that the defendant transfer the plaintiff’s stolen domain name back to the correct registry account from a Russian registrar that the thief had used, according to Domain Name Wire.
The allegations in the case read like a spy novel. Allegedly, the thief somehow transferred the domain name XPortAutoParts.com out of the owner’s URL registry account and into the Russian registry. They then demanded via email a ransom of 10 bitcoin (virtual currency valued at about $100,000) from the rightful owner for the domain name’s return. After the owner reestablished its registry account, the wrongdoer raised the ransom demand to 20 bitcoin.
Domain Name Wire reports that the domain was back in the plaintiff’s account as of September 13, less than a month after the theft. While the matter will now proceed to trial, securing the URL quickly using the expedited TRO application likely prevented further monetary losses since the business could resume its online operations.
The link in the second paragraph above brings you to Domain Name Wire’s article, which contains links to the complaint and the judge’s TRO opinion and order. The judge first found that the business owns the trademark of the business name also used as the URL and that the brand was “distinctive and entitled to protection.”
The TRO application was “ex parte,” meaning without notice to the defendant. The judge found that a TRO without notice was appropriate because if the defendant knew what the court was considering, the thief could electronically transfer the domain name elsewhere instantly with no traceable record.
The plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated to the court that it would “likely suffer immediate and irreparable loss, damage, and injury” and that this likely harm far outweighed potential damage to the defendant – both requirements for a TRO. The court also found that the TRO would serve the public interest since it would prevent “internet thieves” from nabbing domain names for illegal ransom.