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John B.
Farmer

 

Lawrence E. Laubscher, Jr.

 

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For Businesses, .Sucks Sucks

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Should your business buy the “.sucks” domain name version of its company or key product name to keep it away from gripers?

If you do, expect to pay almost $2500 a year. The chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, has called this pricing “legalized extortion.”

Even so, companies such as Goodyear, Xbox and Apple, and celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey and Kevin Spacey have already bought .sucks domain names.

Here’s what’s going on:

Hundreds of new top-level domain names (“TLDs” in netspeak) have been and are being launched to supplement the famous .com, .net and .org domains. The new TLDs cover interests such as .science and .party, and also business sectors, such as .clinic and .lawyer. Companies are operating the new TLDs on a for-profit basis.

A Canadian company, Vox Populi, won the right to launch the “.sucks” TLD. It’s now pressuring businesses to pay a high price to buy .sucks domain names – an opportunity to keep those domain names out of the hands of gripers. Trademark lawyers call this “defensive registration.”

Vox Populi has an attitude. At a recent international meeting of trademark professionals, it handed out “.sucks” branded condoms and rented a billboard displaying the name of the conference followed by “.sucks.”

Vox Populi has a complex pricing scheme, but it essentially is this: businesses pay $2499 per year to buy the .sucks domain name that matches their business name or product name.

If that business owns a trademark registration for its business or product name, it can use a special process, which is open until May 29, to buy the matching .sucks domain name before sales to the general public open.

Once public sales open individuals will be able to register domain names for $249 per year.

But here’s the kicker: Vox Populi says it intends to sell .sucks domain names for just $10 a year to individuals who agree to have that domain name run through a comprehensive website it intends to launch at Everything.sucks.

Vox Populi says it won’t allow employees of companies to use the $10 or $249 pricing to register domain names, which would be a cheap end run around the $2499 corporate pricing. No one knows how Vox Populi will enforce this preclusion, if it can at all.

Everything.sucks has not launched, but it appears the idea is a griper could register the name of a targeted company (say, “Acme.sucks”) for $10 a year, have it point to Everything.sucks, and then web surfers could navigate through Everything.sucks to an Acme.sucks sub-website.

Brand owners are outraged. They’re being asked to pay $2499 per .sucks domain name per year to keep some griper from paying $10 a year to use that domain name to tar the brand.

If you own a business, should you pay up?

It’s like deciding whether to buy an insurance policy against an unlikely but potentially damaging event.

There was a time when businesses feared “sucks” websites. A common ploy for a griper was to register a domain name consisting of the name of the company or product followed by sucks.com, and then put up a website. For example, PayPal was hit by PayPalSucks.com (still operational).

Yet, social media has overtaken the stand-alone gripe site. Consumers now take cues from popular consumer ratings sites, such as Amazon.com, IMDB, Yelp! and TripAdvisor. Gripers get more exposure by posting on those places than from launching target-specific gripe websites.

Also, it’s cheaper and quicker to post on a consumer review site than to pay to register a domain name, much less set up a website.

The operators of .sucks are at least going through the motions of trying to become THE gripe aggregation site. Beyond its everything.sucks plan, Vox Populi has requested proposals from others who operate gripe websites or just have gripes, offering these gripers potential free domain names in .sucks.

If a .sucks site targeting your company gets traction, you’ll probably have to live with it. It’s unlikely a business could stop the usage of a .sucks domain name through a trademark-infringement lawsuit unless the target tries to cash in on trashing your company.

You might have a defamation claim if someone posts false statements of fact about your company or product, but there are high hurdles to surmount to win such a case.

Also, suing a gripe site just draws attention to the griper, which may be counterproductive.

My bet is .sucks won’t take off. You can pay your money or take your chances.

Written on May 19, 2015
by John B. Farmer

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