Friday, April 10, 2009

A call for a new '.pol' domain to combat political cybersquatting

My former McCain Legal colleague Matt Sanderson has published a very interesting op-ed in the Washington Post on an issue squarely at the intersection of IP and election law: cybersquatting cases where the domain name incorporates the names of a political candidates. The problem is common, and often quite pernicious, writes Matt, an attorney in the Political Activity Law practice group at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington:
Politicos make inviting targets because they often launch candidacies well after media and public speculation begins, giving cybersquatters a head-start to buy-up sites. For instance, was acquired only hours after the then-senator's eloquent address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. was snapped up just eight days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Many political cybersquatters simply hope to ransom their purchases to candidates who must quickly secure a site in a time-sensitive environment. Others' motives are more menacing. In 2004, for example, a cybersquatter deceitfully solicited funds through, which was nearly identical to Sen. John Kerry's authorized site. Likewise, in 2008, the cybersquatter site featured a contribution page almost indistinguishable from the similarly spelled official campaign site, Such counterfeit contribution pages raise serious monetary- and identity-theft concerns; they are also likely to become more common as others imitate these schemes.
Candidates can seek redress through ICANN or the courts, but victory is far from certain -- no one is entitled to an absolute monopoly over the use of his or her name in a domain -- and litigation even over meritorious cases may drag on far longer than a campaign.

What to do? Matt proposes the creation of a new ".pol" top level domain only available to genuine candidates and political groups. Explains Matt:
Internet users would be able to easily locate candidate sites because the ".pol" ending would provide a reliable shortcut for finding and identifying official Web pages. So even if a cybersquatter builds a counterfeit contribution page on a ".com" site, as happened in 2004 and 2008, informed campaign donors could visit a .pol site for assurance that their money would go to the intended recipient. A .pol domain would significantly reduce the extortion, confusion, fraud and reputation exploitation associated with political cybersquatting.

I'm no expert on domain names, but this seems like a smart solution to me. A much lengthier and more detailed version of Matt's proposal is available here.

1 comment:

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