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Avast, Ye Search Engine Pirates!

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Be careful what you type: Domain pirates have registered names that closely resemble those of your favorite search engines.

If your fingers slip and you omit the final "e" when you type Google's familiar URL, you'll see a "Search Guide" that looks nothing at all like the sparse home page of the search engine.

Instead, googl.com's "Search Guide" is a cluttered directory of products and services. Its "search results" are affiliate links served by FindWhat and Ah-Ha.com. It is registered to a company called Buena Vista, LLC, which claims to be located on "1060 W. Franford RD" in Dallas, Texas. According to long-time Dallas resident John Ferguson, an instructor and information specialist at Richland College, there is no Franford road in Dallas.

The phone and fax numbers given use an area code in western Massachusetts. The domain name was registered to someone calling him or herself "N.N" through Secura GmbH, a domain reseller located in Germany.

In short, the owners of "googl.com" have nothing to do with the legitimate search engine and appear to have registered the domain using fictitious information.

Digging a bit deeper, Googl's "search result" links are served by a site called Compana.com. In fact, the home page of Compana.com is identical to Googl.com. The domain registration for Compana appears to be somewhat more legitimate than Googl's.

A search of ICANN's Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) database shows that Compana.com has been the target of domain dispute complaints for three other "confusingly similar" domains it registered.

As the ultimate overseer of the domain name system on the Internet, ICANN has the authority to order the transfer or even shut down disputed domain names that infringe on trademarks or other intellectual property.

Under the UDRP, Google has won a number of complaints against sites such as googel.com, googlr.com, googld.com and has other cases pending. When asked whether the company planned to initiate a complaint against googl.com, Google's Matt Cutts said that the company doesn't discuss potential or current legal actions.

Cutts did seem to indicate that the site might be removed from Google's database. "We treat typo squatting as spam because it's deceptive," he said.

Google isn't the only search engine targeted with domain typos, and many of these other sites are especially obnoxious, cluttering your screen with pop-ups, and in extreme cases "mousetrapping" your browser, disabling your navigation buttons and forcing you to close your browser entirely to escape.

Some examples (don't try them -- just take my word for it):

AtaVista.com
This URL redirects to a site called "ownbox.com" and pops up a window exclaiming "Congratulations! You've Won Virtual Reality Casino!" Closing the popup with either the "ok" or "cancel" button redirects you to an online casino.

Lcos.com
This site looks remarkably like googl.com. It's registered to "(This Domain is For Sale) Joshuathan Investments, Inc., 62 Cleghorn Street, Belize City, Belize."

Yaho.com
DO NOT try this one! This site uses code that redirects your browser to a site that obscures the URL and pops up a "Would you like to change your home page to some other page" box. The site then messes with your browser settings no matter whether you click "yes" or "no" -- and apparently even makes changes to your home page settings if you don't shut down your browser in time. A nasty, nasty site.

A related issue are sites that use a search engine's trademarked name as part of their domain name rather than typos. For example, Domain Surfer -- a site that lets you search for domain names using wildcards -- reports more than 400 registered domain names beginning with "google." There are also nearly 2,500 yahoo-X domain names, over 400 beginning with Lycos, and more than 200 AltaVista-X domain names.

Some of these similar domain names are registered by the companies themselves, presumably to protect their themselves from others who might grab the domains. Others may be people who hope to cash in on a search engine's popularity by making use of their full names. Googlesex.com appears to have been one of these, a domain name that Google eventually won through a UDRP complaint.

Winning a complaint isn't necessarily the end of the story, however. For example, XtraPlus Corp. is fighting an UDRP order to transfer its domain names that contain the word "google" in them to Google.

XtraPlus operates an online computer retail site called GoogleGear.com. It also owns the names googlegear.net, googlegear.org and googlebuy.com. On April 16, 2001, it lost a UDRP fight with Google over the names.

Disagreeing with that outcome, XtraPlus is now fighting in civil court to retain rights to the names. It filed an action on in the San Jose division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on May 15, 2001. A trial date won't be set until June 2003, according to Douglas A. Chaikin, intellectual property litigation attorney representing XtraPlus.

Google, Inc. v. Xtraplus Corp.
http://arbiter.wipo.int/domains/decisions/html/2001/d2001-0125.html

Details of the arbitration between Google and XtraPlus.

Over 1250 Google pirates game for typos
http://www.voelspriet.nl/google25-eng.htm
Henk van Ess, publisher of Netherlands-based Voelspriet, writes about Google domain name pirates.

Decisions in Proceedings Under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy
http://www.icann.org/udrp/udrpdec.htm
This search engine searches a database of the text of decisions in UDRP proceedings. The database is updated weekly, so that very recent decisions may not be found.

Search WIPO Cases and WIPO Panel Decisions
http://arbiter.wipo.int/domains/search/
Another search engine for domain name disputes, from the World Intellectual Property Organization.

DomainSurfer
http://www.domainsurfer.com/
This domain name search engine supports wild-card and drill-down search mechanisms to help you discover name variants.

Search Engines and Legal Issues
http://searchenginewatch.com/resources/legal.html
As search engines have grown as an industry, a number of lawsuits and legal issues have arisen in relation to them. The articles on this page have been organized by type of dispute.

FAST Does Flash

FAST today is adding the capability to search Macromedia Flash content and applications on the web, through its AllTheWeb.com search engine. The functionality will automatically be made available to FAST's portal partners, such as InfoSpace, Lycos, Tiscali, and T-Online, as well.

The company claims to be the first major search engine enabling users to perform searches of Flash content. In addition to basic searching, you'll also be able to further refine Flash queries via AllTheWeb.com's Advanced Features form.

AllTheWeb Advanced Search
http://www.alltheweb.com/advanced

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