The sunrise period for trademark owners to register their .sucks domain names has started. That means owners of federally registered trademarks (and celebrities) can pay around $2,000 to get their brands’ .sucks domain names before those domains go on sale to the general public on June 1, 2015.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The cost to secure your .sucks domain name before anyone else can get it is at least $2,000. If you wait until June 1, you can register any .sucks domain for $249 per year.
If you’d prefer, you can get a discount and pay just $10 per year but you have to agree to redirect your traffic to Vox Populi’s discussion network at everything.sucks.com.
Vox Populi (a division of Momentous) is the company that won an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) auction to operate and sell the .sucks domains. Last year, over 500 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) were approved by ICANN (the non-profit organization that sets policies for the global domain name system), including .sucks and .porn, and 1,300 more are expected to debut in the next few years. However, most are far less controversial.
The reason the .sucks domain is getting so much hype is because of the exorbitant prices Vox Populi is charging trademark owners.
ICANN has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into the matter and determine if Vox Populi’s pricing scheme is predatory. For now, brands like Apple, Walmart, Microsoft, and Home Depot, as well as celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey, are paying big bucks for their .sucks domain names.
4 Things About .sucks Domain Names
Should you pay to register your brand’s .sucks domain name during the sunrise period? Should you register it after the sunrise period ends? Here are four things you should understand about domain names so you can make the right decision for your brand and your business:
1. If You Don’t buy your .sucks Domain Name, Someone Else Probably Will
It is very possible that if you don’t register your .sucks domain name, someone else will do so. There are a number of things they could do with the domain after they register it:
They Could Squat and do Nothing With It
They could sit on the domain and never use it to publish any content. In this case, there isn’t any harm to your business, but that could always change in the future.
They Could use it to Complain About Your Business and Brand
See point number four below to learn more about how this could impact your business.
They Could use it to Sell Products or Services That are Similar to Yours
If this happens, then there is a likelihood of confusion between your brand and theirs. If you have a trademark registration for your brand name, then you can send a cease and desist demand letter asking them to stop using your brand name.
If they don’t comply and you own the trademark, you can file a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) complaint, which will cost you at least $1,500 but will get the site taken down if the other party doesn’t have a legitimate use for the domain.
They Could use it to Sell Products or Services that are Completely Unrelated to Yours
If the products and services are not similar to yours, then it is unlikely that consumers would confuse your business with theirs even though both use the same brand name.
In this case, there isn’t really anything you can do to stop them, but be sure to read point number three below to learn more about brand dilution considerations.
They Could use it to Publish Content That you may or may not Like
If the content they publish is related to your business, see point number four below to learn more. If the content is completely unrelated to your business, then there isn’t much you can do, but you should read point number three below to understand how this could lead to brand dilution.
2. You are Responsible for Policing Your Brand, Including use by Others Online.
The law will not protect a fool from his own folly. You are responsible for policing your brand and the use of your brand by others — both online and offline. If you own the registered trademark for your brand name, you’re responsible for enforcing that registration. If you don’t enforce your rights, you might lose them.
Therefore, you don’t have to register your .sucks domain name, but you do need to have a program in place to monitor your brand, identify problems and enforce your trademark rights in a timely manner. That includes use of your brand name in any domain name, including .sucks domain names.
3. You Shouldn’t Ignore the Potential for Brand Dilution
If you allow someone else to register your brand’s .sucks domain name, and they use it to publish content that could indirectly cast your brand in a negative light, you can’t stop them or the resulting harm to your brand reputation.
That negative association with your brand name can dilute your brand in the marketplace causing it to lose value.
With that in mind, don’t ignore uses of your brand name that are not trademark conflicts, because they could still hurt your brand reputation and dilute its value.
This is a time when a focused marketing and public relations campaign is essential to separate your brand from the negativity so you don’t have to invest in an expensive rebranding in the future.
4. .sucks is Just the Tip of the Iceberg.
If someone wants to publish negative content about your brand and business online, they’re going to do it. In the United States, free speech allows people to express their opinions, and the Internet and social media make it extremely easy for anyone to do so.
Think of it this way. If your brand is “Ampic” and a dissatisfied customer wants to start a website to complain about your brand, they could register Ampic.sucks and start publishing negative content within minutes. Let’s say you spent $2,000 to secure your .sucks domain name. That wouldn’t deter an angry customer. He could register AmpicSucks.com, AmpicSucks.net, AmpicReally.sucks or any other creative variation he wants.
Even the largest businesses in the world can’t register every negative phrase combined with their brand names using all of the available gTLDs. Again, unless a site that includes your brand name in its domain name is selling products and services that could cause consumer confusion about the source of those products and services, there isn’t much you can do to stop them from continuing to use the domain name or publishing content on their site.
What Should Small Businesses Do about .sucks Domain Names?
Remember, there are limitations to every law, including trademark laws.
However, if you don’t have a federal trademark registration for your brand name, it will be very hard to stop others from using that name to sell similar goods and services. And if you do have a federal trademark registration for your brand name, you’re responsible for policing it and enforcing it.
Turning a blind eye to infringements could lead to the loss of your trademark rights.
Only you can decide whether or not you want to invest in your brand’s .sucks domain name.
If you’re doing so in an effort to stop people from complaining about your brand online, then you could get your .sucks domain name as a pre-emptive measure of protection. But where there is a will to complain, there is always a way to do so. For every .sucks domain name, there are thousands of other creative options available.
And remember, in the next few years, another 1,300 gTLDs are coming, which will give people even more options.
Domain Image via Shutterstock