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Cybersquatting: How buying domains could land you in jail.


Cybersquatting is a term that is not known to many. It can have different variations but it is commonly understood to mean the practice of registering names, especially well-known company or brand names, as Internet domains, in the hope of reselling them at a profit. A recent and practical example, in my opinion, is the case of the recently announced Nigeria Air. A post on the website of Techpoint.ng states that;

As of July 18, 2018, the day of the unveiling, NigeriaAir.ng and NigeriaAir.com.ng were still available until one person named Olumayowa Elegbede bought them. He has now put both domains up for sale at $66,489 (about ₦24 million) each. Bear in mind that NigeriaAir.com and Nigeria-Air.ng have also been taken.



This situation fits the bill of Cybersquatting going by the commonly accepted usage of the term. But definitions or best practices do not convict people, hence we must refer to the laws of the land.

The Cybercrimes act, 2015 defines Cybersquatting as “the acquisition of a domain name over the internet in bad faith to profit, mislead, destroy the reputation, and deprive others from registering the same, if such a domain name is:

(i) Similar, identical, or confusingly similar to an existing trademark registered with the
appropriate government agency at the time of the domain name registration:
(ii) Identical or in any way similar with the name of a person other than the registrant,
in case of a personal name; and
(iii) Acquired without right or with intellectual property interests in it.

Note that the act states that if a domain name is similar, identical or confusingly similar to an existing registered trademark, you could be docked for cybersquatting. So, the pertinent question is did they register Nigeria Air prior to its unveiling? I think so for it would be downright insane for the logo and trademark to be unveiled without it being registered.

So what’s the penalty of cybersquatting? The Cybercrimes act, 2015 states in part 3 section 25:
     (1)    Any person who, intentionally takes or makes use of a name, business name, trademark, domain name or other word or phrase registered, owned or in use by any individual, body corporate or belonging to either the Federal, State or Local Governments in Nigeria, on the internet or any other computer network, without authority or right, and for the purpose of interfering with their use by the owner, registrant or legitimate prior user, commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than N5,000,000.00 or to both fine and imprisonment.

     (2)    In awarding any penalty against an offender under this section, a court shall have
regard to the following –

(a) a refusal by the offender to relinquish, upon formal request by the rightful owner
of the name, business name, trademark, domain name, or other word or phrase
registered, owned or in use by any individual, body corporate or belonging to either
the Federal, State or Local Governments in Nigeria; or
(b) an attempt by the offender to obtain compensation in any form for the release to
the rightful owner for use of the name, business name, trademark, domain name or
other word or phrase registered, owned or in use by any individual, body corporate or
belonging to either the Federal, State or Local Government of Nigeria.
(3) In addition to the penalty specified under this section, the court may make an order
directing the offender to relinquish such registered name, mark, trademark, domain
      (1)    name, or other word or phrase to the rightful owner.

So there you have it, folks, Mr. Olumayowa Elegbede and others instead of getting a huge payday, might be on their way to jail or be made to cough out five million Naira. Also worthy of note is that these individuals failed to opt into domain privacy which would have afforded them some level of anonymity.

In conclusion, I would advise you take the time to read the whole of the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 and please don’t be deceived into thinking you’ll get a huge windfall if you can quickly register a popular domain name that is similar to the name of a new organization or company. Rather, what you are asking for is trouble. 

7 comments:

  1. This piece is enlightening. Many thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So, the pertinent question is did they register Nigeria Air prior to its unveiling? I think so for it would be downright insane for the logo and trademark to be unveiled without it being registered.

    You think so? What if it was not done. What if the trademark were not registered.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The rules here are plain even for a lay man. Nigeria air didn't host any domain prior to it's unveiling.

    ReplyDelete
  4. He actually should have bought the domain off an international registrar like Namecheap, and should have paid in Bitcoin instead of fiat which can be traced. If he had bought with Namecheap, Nigerian laws wouldn't have had jurisdiction on him

    ReplyDelete

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