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Senate ponders protecting trademarks from "cybersquatters"

The U.S. Senate votes later this week on legislation intended to crack down on people who register trademarked words as domain names and then resell them at a profit to their rightful owner.

The U.S. Senate will vote later this week on legislation intended to crack down on people who register trademarked words as domain names and then resell them at a profit to their rightful owner.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation, known as the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, last Thursday. It's likely the bill will get to the full senate before going into recess at the end of the week. The bill's chances of becoming law look good, said Jeanne Lopatto, press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"There is a lot of bipartisan support," said Lopatto. "We expect it will have smooth sailing through the Senate."

Supporters of the bill aim to prevent "cybersquatting," a practice in which people buy domain names in bad faith. Buyers can currently capitalize on others' trademarks by registering them as Internet addresses of and then selling them to the trademark holders for much more than the $70 the domain names cost. Often, cybersquatters route Net surfers trying to visit trademarked names to pornography sites.

If passed, the act would impose civil penalties between $1,000 and $100,000 per trademark.

The original bill was introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan). The legislation being considered this week is a substitute bill, amended by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). Cosponsors are Sens. Abraham, Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), and Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin).

The amended bill includes provisions to protect Internet users who use others' trademarks fairly and use protected speech online and drops the criminal penalties in the original.

A reseller of domain names has sent emails to Hatch and Abraham offering "senatororrinhatch.com" and other political addresses for tens of thousands of dollars. The "senatororrinhatch.com" address currently hosts a page promoting Verio, a service for registering domain names. Lopatto said this kind of cybersquatting would not be punished because the bill applies only to trademarked names.

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