What Are Rogue Websites?
The internet has brought one of the biggest revolutions in the world. In today’s world, we cannot imagine living a single day without the internet. It has become an inseparable part of everything – from our mobile phones to our cars. Companies can now reach a larger audience and can cater to markets that are miles away from them. But as the saying goes, “there is no light without dark”, and the world of the internet is no different. Just like how the internet has given us an endless ocean of opportunities, it has also brought us new challenges that we have to face. Rogue websites are one of those challenges.
We are well acquainted with how the internet has expanded the horizons of business. One of the key prerequisites for every company has now become its website and/or its digital presence in any form. Companies have their registered websites, verified accounts on social media and so much more. When the internet becomes a tool of business, it is also bound to be misused like any other tool. We have seen fraudulent companies in the physical world make dupe producers or sell products illegally. So, with access to the tool that is the internet, they bring out such wrongful practices to the online world as well. One of the ways in which they perform these malicious acts are by creating Rogue Websites.
Rogue websites are a term broadly made to characterize websites that have been created maliciously and/or dishonestly to deceive consumers. They sell counterfeit goods and services, are cybersquatters, or are typosquatters. What they are trying to commit can be considered similar to trademark infringements in the general world. However, their crimes are comparatively more complex in theory, and far harder to punish. This is partly because they are not regulated in India.
Types of Rogue Websites
One of the first kinds of rogue websites is the ones that try to sell fraudulent or counterfeit goods by imitating the original website. They design their websites in a manner that any common man would not be able to differentiate between their website and the original website. They copy every single feature of the website to make the consumer believe that they have reached the right spot. A particularly malicious variant of this, that delves into being outrishgt fraud, are the multiple fake State Bank of India websites.
The second kind of rogue websites are the ones that also sell counterfeit goods or services of the original website but they do not try to hide the fact that the website is fake. They want to sell their goods or service by letting the customer know that the website is different from the original. Their manner of luring the customer is usually lower rates of the good or service.
The next type of rogue website would be categorized under Typosquatting. This refers to the practice of claiming new domain names that are so similar to an original website, that a single common mistake by the user would lead them to the wrong website. For example, if a British company comes up with a domain name called colourrims.com for their website. What a typosquatter would do is to register the domain name colorrims.com. This would largely profit them as many international consumers of the product could get confused between the American and British spelling of the word.
The fourth type of rogue websites is the ones that attempt cybersquatting. What this essentially means is that the owner of such website registers or claims the domain name of an existing company, that is yet to do so, and uses it to their favor. They usually tend to do this for one reason, to sell the domain name to the original owner at a higher rate. However, if the owner denies purchasing the domain name, then they use it to shift the customer traffic elsewhere, causing problems for the owner company.
An example for the same would be as follows: If A creates a new company named Shine Diamonds, and B finds out about the company and registers the domain name shinediamonds.com under his name. A would not able to use the website for his company. Now A has to purchase the domain name from B at the rate that B decides. However, if A does not purchase the name and instead creates a different domain name like sdindia.com, then B would still be at advantage as any common man, who tries the domain name shinediamond.com would reach the wrong website but would still believe it to be true as the website would deceivingly make them believe so.
Finally, the last type of rogue website shall be under the theme of speculated domain names. They are very similar to cybersquatting as they also register domain names before the owner can but differ largely on one aspect i.e., cybersquatting targets certain company names, whereas these people focus on registering common words or phrases. For example, veganism.com, astrology.com, space.com, etc.
Infringement of Intellectual Property Rights
No legislation in India has been specifically made to look into the cases of domain names. The Trademarks Act looks into these problems as of now. The courts however have on several occasions explained the distinction between Trademark and Domain name and have also pointed out that the current laws in India are not enough to look into these matters.
Nevertheless, as of now, the courts do provide relief for such cases. One of the most landmark judgments for the same was Yahoo Inc. v. Akash Arora and anr. The court, in this judgment, very clearly applied the concept of distinctiveness. The respondents wanted to claim their rights on yahooindia.com which was a domain name extremely similar to yahoo.com. The court rejected the respondent’s claim and stated that the two domain names were very similar and infringed the rights of the plaintiff. Even though the courts of our country are resolving these cases through their practical knowledge, it is high time that India comes up with laws that focus on domain names. Unlike Trademark law, where the geography and reputation of a company matter a lot, domain names are an international topic, and they make the laws broader in scope. This makes the creation of new laws tailor-made for domain names an urgent requirement that needs to be looked into.
Author: Maitreyi Shishir, Legal Intern at PA Legal.
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