Protecting your name online has never been more important.

This is an age where Twitter can damage corporate reputations and an unregistered domain name can severely shake public confidence.

As the global regulator for web addresses releases hundreds of new top-level domains, protecting your own domain name has become even more crucial.

While there are protections to stop copyright infringement on domain registrations, brands still need to proactively protect their online reputation – particularly from cyber squatters.

As Sharon Williams, Taurus Marketing CEO, explains: “If you don’t have control of your own name someone else can.”

Many big names have learnt this the hard way. When it comes to domain names, if you snooze – you lose.

Exhibit A: Donald Trump

In 2014, the U.S. District in Brooklyn awarded Donald Trump $32,000 in damages after J. Taikwok Yung, trading as Web-adviso, registered four domains associated with his trademark.

Yung’s websites, www.trumpmumbai.com, www.trumpindia.com, www.trumpbeijing.com and www.trumpabudhabi.com, used to purportedly parody the real estate mogul, were also ordered to be handed back to Trump.

In this case, Trump’s victory was a good – but not great – outcome. Yung registered his Trump websites in 2007, but it took six years for the situation to be resolved. Who knows how many jokes were had at Trump’s expense in that time?

Exhibit B: Verizon

In 2008, Verizon Communications faced a very serious cyber squatting problem when not one – not four – but 663 domain names were listed by registration company OnlineNIC.

Verizon successfully argued that the 663 domain names had been deliberately chosen to be confused with legitimate Verizon names and was awarded $33.15 million ($50,000 per domain name) in damages.

Whether they received any of that however is another question. OnlineNIC never appeared in court.

Exhibit C: Madonna and Sting

Madonna was one of the first big name celebrities to learn the importance of protecting your domain name. Back in 2000, www.madonna.com was used as a porn website. Madonna argued that the site damaged her personal brand and reputation, and it took a long (and arguably embarrassing) legal battle for Madonna to finally obtain the transfer of the web address.

Sting had similar problems. That same year, he lost his lawsuit to reclaim www.sting.com because he couldn’t prove the owner had purchased it in ‘bad faith’. But eventually it appears that Sting has reclaimed the domain name, with the site now promoting Sting’s music and tours.

The moral of the story

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mining giant, real estate magnate or pop star – domain names matter.

Anyone can be a victim of cyber squatting and pay the price: some with their reputation, others with lengthy legal battles and a drop in earnings.

Now is the best time to be proactive. What happens online affects business offline.

What can you do about it?

According to Ms Williams, brands and businesses need to be extra vigilant about online risks like cyber squatting to protect their name and reputation.

This means:

1) Getting your ship in order

“It’s a great idea to make sure all your intellectual property is bedded down,” says Ms Williams. “Aim to own or take control to own all the domain names that you could want – in and out of country, all the extensions (eg .net and .com.au) – so that it is recognised you are serious about your brand.”

2) Defensive registering

“Own all your domain names and the associated brand and product names. Protecting your brand online is about building online reputational fat in the market, so that people know and understand who you are and what you stand for.”

3) Risk mitigation

“Business is hard enough, so don’t let yourself be put in the position of not being in control of your domain and your brand names.”

Image credit: Justice Gavel by Tori Rector, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0