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Congress tackles cybersquatter debate

Congress will consider the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to allow people to recover from $1,000 to $300,000 in damages from people found guilty of cybersquatting.

Congress is the latest body taking aim at so-called cybersquatters, who register droves of domain names usually in hopes of selling them off to the highest bidder.

As expected, Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan) has introduced Who's been registering Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to allow people to recover from $1,000 to $300,000 in damages from people who are found guilty of registering "popular trademark names or names sufficiently similar to a trademark" in bad faith.

Cybersquatting has been at the center of an international debate over how to handle trademark disputes over domain names, which historically have been granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Congress is not alone in trying to tackle the issue. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is in charge of the Net's core technical functions, also is pushing a hot-button proposal introduced by the World Intellectual Property Organization that would give "famous" trademark holders around the globe special claims on domain names.

The proposal also calls for registrants to provide accurate contact information in case someone wants to challenge ownership of a name. Legal experts say the landmark proposal is unfairly balanced in favor of big corporations that have trademarked a term for use in the offline world.

"Online extortion in any form is unacceptable and outrageous," Abraham said in a statement.

"Whether it's people extorting companies by registering company names, misdirecting Internet users to inappropriate sites, or otherwise attempting to damage a trademark that a business has spent decades building into a recognizable brand, anyone engaging in cybersquatting activity should be held accountable for their actions," he added.

For its part, ICANN has referred the matter to its domain name supporting organization, which represents different constituents who are stakeholders in the Net addressing system and which could deliver a final recommendation by ICANN's next public meeting in Santiago, Chile, in August.