What if the domain name I want is taken -- but not yet being used?

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Question:

I am hoping to start a website, to bring people to my stores. I tried to register my business's name as a domain name but found it was taken. When I type in the address, though, the screen says "under construction." It's been "under construction" for months. What should I do?

Answer:

You have a few options. The easiest thing to do is try and wiggle your chosen name a little bit. If you're using .com with the name, could you use .org, .net, .biz or .info? Or, could you vary the name slightly from your exact business name? For instance, if you have a muffin store called "Franny's" you could try frannysmuffins.com, instead of frannys.com. Or, try a whole different name. Maybe use a slogan or a description of your product -- something like blueberryfever.com or moistandfluffy.com.

There is a chance that you're a victim of "cybersquatting," the bad-faith purchasing of a domain name. The "under construction" screen could show that the purchaser has no intention of using the domain name -- only of selling it back to you.

In this case, you could sue the registrant in federal court under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act or use the dispute resolution procedure of the agency in charge of such things -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The ICANN route is a relatively low-cost and quick process, using arbitration. (For information, go to www.icann.org.)

In either case, you will generally have to show that you have rights in the name, that the registrant doesn't have rights in the name, and that the name was registered in bad faith. One example of bad faith is that the owner bought the name solely for the purpose of selling it to the legitimate owner.

Before launching into either of these options, though, you should look into the situation. There could be an innocent explanation for the "under construction" status. It is easy to register a domain but difficult to get a site up and running.

Try contacting the registrant. You can find registration information at www.whois.net. Find out if there is a reasonable explanation for the use of the name and if the registrant would be willing to sell it to you.

Be aware that some registrants, especially cybersquatters acting in bad faith, may supply false information about domain name ownership. In these cases, there's not much that can be done to track them down. But there are ways to wrestle a domain name from a bad faith registrant even if the identity or location of the cybersquatter is unknown. For more information, see Cybersquatting: What Can Be Done About It.

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