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Stop ‘cybersquatters’ who try to hijack your Web address

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: How to secure the rights to Internet domain names that are related to your organization and its products.

Benefit: You have the legal right to prevent cybersquatters from usurping your rightful Web addresses.

Action: Use provisions in employment contracts and severance agreements to thwart Internet pirates.

Here's a way to prevent employees and ex-employees from ripping off your organization's rightful Web addresses: Include wording in your employment contracts and severance packages that secure your rights to any organization-related Web addresses (or "domain names").

Can this really become a problem? Yes. In recent years, Internet profiteers and disgruntled ex-employees have rushed to scoop up domain names of several popular companies just to turn around and try to sell them back to the companies.

The federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) gives you the right to sue anyone who registers a domain name similar to yours with intent to profit.

Recent case: A Ford employee registered the Web address, www.fordworld. com, which corresponds to the name of the company's employee newspaper. The employee sent an e-mail to Ford execs saying he had other offers for the domain but wanted to "extend an opportunity" to Ford to buy the domain first.

Ford successfully sued the employee, claiming he tried to profit from the sale of a domain that was identical to a company trademark. The court said it didn't matter that the employee registered the domain name before the anti-cybersquatting law was signed in 1999. (Ford Motor Co. v. Catalanotte, No. 02-1237, 6th Cir., 2003)

Final note: In addition to using employment contracts and severance pacts to block employees from scooping up domains, suggest to your IT department (or whomever registers domain names) that your organization should identify potentially valuable domain names as early as possible, and register them in your corporate name.

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