Video: ’08 domain name mania

By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 11/21/2006 11:07:38 PM ET 2006-11-22T04:07:38

Cyber squatting seems so retro to me.  It conjures up words like "Lycos" and "AltaVista," and it’s very reminiscent of the last time people were spending billions of dollars for Web sites with no foreseeable revenue streams.

But the squatters are in the news again, and hopefully not the oracles of doom they were in 1999 when the boom came to an end.

This time they’re buying up domain names of potential presidential candidates.  Buying them like mad.  There are about 50 registered sites for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.  None of them belong to him, and, by the way, he hasn’t even said he’ll run.

The object is to beat the would-be contenders to the punch.  Take away all the viable options for cyber campaign headquarters and leave them begging for you to sell that precious series of letters and numbers that make up “Hillary2008.com,” or “ElectRudyPresident.org.”

The registering is simple.  You just go to a website like GoDaddy.com, and if the domain name is free, you plunk down about $10 for the year.

But why would you want to register “NancyPelosi2008.com” if you aren’t Nancy Pelosi?  Two possible reasons: First, you’ve painted the candidate into a corner.  They will essentially need to buy that site from you if it will too frequently be mistaken for the official site.

The other reason -- it’s a dirty way to slam your opponent.  If someone wanted to play hardball with the Mitt Romney campaign, for example, that person could simply buy a bunch of possible domain names that include Romney’s name and publish negative ads and literature about him.

And there can be some real money in domain names.  Last year, 620 site names sold for more than $10,000.  One of them, Farm.com, reportedly sold for $200,000.

But it isn’t an instant win for the squatters.  The tide seems to be changing.  Earlier this year, Sen. Clinton did win the right to reclaim HillaryClinton.com from an Italian woman who purchased it years ago.

The judge ruled that, like Ford or Lego or Coca Cola, Hillary is a virtual trademark and her name is part of her capital.

However, for the most part these are cases where free speech laws prevail.

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