Cybersquatting (also known as domain squatting), is registering, trafficking in, or using an Internet domain name with bad faith, intending to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.
According to the Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015, Cybersquatting is prohibited and a criminal offence. The Act states that any person who intentionally takes or makes use of a name, business name, trademark, domain name or other word or phrase which was already registered, owned or in use by another individual, or corporate body, or belonging to either the Federal, State or Local Governments in Nigeria, on the internet or any other computer network, without the necessary authority, and for the purpose of interfering with their use by the owner, registrant or legitimate prior user, commits an offence under this Act and shall be Cybersquatting. They shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than N5,000,000.00 or to both fine and imprisonment. There have been several discussions on the effectiveness and adequacy of the Act. But that discussion is not for this platform.
The enactment of the law and consequent application of the penalty should be sufficient to scare any domain squatter trying to engage in domain squatting, but the reality is that there are still some persons out there perpetrating the act of domain squatting. There are some who want to benefit from the hard work of others by trying to use their brands as a launchpad for their own business. People need to respect the work of others and desist from infringing on the right of others.
Trademark owners should be aware of the Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015 and the importance of registering their trademark as a domain name and it could prevent domain squatting and help promote brand protection.
The Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA) has many policies that govern its operations. One of such policies is the NiRA (.ng) Domain Name Policy, which states that domain registration is on a first-come, first-served basis and section 4.1 of the NiRA General Registration Policy states, “It is the Registrant’s obligation and responsibility to ensure that all Registration Information, as defined in the Registrant Agreement, is up-to-date, complete and accurate. Any update of Registration Information must be done through the Registrant’s Registrar of record unless otherwise permitted by NIRA”. But also, the NiRA policies recognise the right of the owner of a trademark or tradename obtained from the Trademarks, Patent & Design Office, Federal Ministry Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI).
The Trademark owner should take note of the following and register their domain name:
It’s easier to avoid being the victim of a domain squatter. Here are some tips to assist to prevent such situations in the future:
- Contact a NiRA Accredited Registrar via https://www.nira.org.ng/accredited-registrars for the .ng domain name of your choice.
- Domain Name registration is on a first come first served basis
Squatters are always out to register popular names in order to profit from the names later. The bonafide owner of such a name might not be able to retrieve it or might have to part with a huge amount of money to acquire the name.
- Register the domain you want before you need it
Register the .ng domain name you want on the portal of your NiRA Accredited Registrar. It has been proven that domain squatters often buy recently searched domain names in the hopes of selling it to the original searcher.
- Register similar names
Consider buying domains with multiple extensions, on other TLDs, to prevent squatters from buying them. Research common misspellings of your domain and consider registering them as well. This is also a form of brand protection.
How to reclaim your .ng domain name
If you believe a domain name infringes on your copyright or trademark, contact the registrant of the domain name, with sufficient evidence, contact NiRA to assist to resolve the situation and/or use the NiRA Dispute Resolution Policy (NDRP) to file a dispute with regards to that domain name.
At every point in a dispute process, you would be required to provide sufficient evidence of your trademark or copyright ownership from the Trademark Offices, FMITI for the .ng domain name. If this is not available, it might necessitate the bona-fide owner paying a handsome amount of money to the squatter to get the desired name.