It’s definitely cheaper to prevent political domain cybersquatting. You’ll save time, too. Fighting squatters is expensive and you may not win. We tell FYNE clients to register their name as a domain immediately. Secure domains before hiring staff, considering focus groups, filing petitions, or leasing office space. Don’t tell anyone you might launch a political campaign before you own as many domain names as possible.
Think Simplicity, Strategy, and Creativity
Register the most popular domain types (called TLDs or top-level domains), such as .com, .org, .net, .co, .biz, .mobi, .name, .us, and .tv. New, party-specific extensions like .democrat or .republican are trendy, as well. You should secure names that are likely to be typed into browsers, plus domains with a specific purpose (like .tv for playback of videos, .mobi for a campaign donation app), strategic registrations for search engine optimization, and memorable domain names for traditional media buys.
Then start talking about running for office. This way, you are guaranteed first dibs on the best domain names. If you announce first, you’ll give opponents, activists, lobbyists, domain speculators, and just terrible people an opportunity to register your name as a domain first. Besides making it more difficult for potential voters and donors to find you, this can be especially damaging if the domain is used to advocate a position opposite yours.
5 Political Campaigns That Didn’t Register Domains First
Republicans Who Learned Their Lesson
1. Carly Fiorina
In the 2016 primary presidential race, Carly Fiorina fell victim to a cybersquatter who snatched up carlyfiorina.org first. The owner blasted Fiorina, posting 30,000 sad face emoticons to represent the number of laid off employees during her stint as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
While Carly Fiorina had business experience running a multi-national tech company, and she was the sole female Republican on the ticket, the dialogue zoomed in on her failure as CEO. This was largely in part because of the carlyfiorina.org fiasco. This mistake ended up being her demise, and she dropped out of the race.
2. Ted Cruz
In 2014, Cruz introduced legislation to Congress in an attempt to prevent President Obama from “illegally expanding amnesty” for immigrants. This led supporters to go to TedCruz.com, only to find information supporting Obama’s proposed immigration reform.
3. Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush hit several cybersquatting walls with registering domains during his 2016 presidential run. Those who visited jebbushforpresident.com expected to find rhetoric praising him and relating to his stated opposition to same sex marriage, among other things. The web site, however, promoted same sex marriage.
During a critical period of the campaign, there was even more trouble for Jeb Bush, as the domain name jebbush.com was redirecting hits to Donald Trump’s website. After taunting Bush through several media interviews, Trump’s campaign denied personally owning the domain. Now that the primary is over, JebBush.com directs to a landing page with seedy political ads for sites as bizarre as “Muslim Spy Catcher”.
The 2016 Democratic Nominee & Family
4. Hillary Clinton
Democratic 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has also had to contend with cybersquatters during her time in various offices. In the present campaign, the domain name hillaryclinton2016.com popped up with links to derogatory news items.
While running against President Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination, she earned a certain title by industry insiders that we’ll share in a few paragraphs.
Avoid Thousands in Domain Court Fees
Pro Tip: If someone registers a domain that is either a necessity for your campaign, or where ignoring their registration is just not legally advisable, there is a separate “court” that hears challenges over such registrations. Although it’s colloquially referred to as a court proceeding, it’s actually a mediation process arbitrated by a few organizations, as defined by the UDRP (Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy) terms every domain name registrant agrees to, no matter the company used for registration.
Hillary Clinton utilized the UDRP to wrest control of the domain name hillaryclinton.com in 2005 from a registrant who thought they had hit the jackpot by registering the name.
Historical Tip: For many years following domain names becoming a commercial commodity, federal law didn’t explicitly prohibit the registration of domains with the intent of holding them hostage or profiting from someone else’s intellectual property. This led to a certain subgroup of domain speculators buying up domains based on assumed sale value in the future. After the passage of 1999’s Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, that balloon began leaking and certainly by 2005 was almost out of air.
Attorneys for Presidential nominee Clinton presented her UDRP case before the National Arbitration Forum. Their argument? She had a registered federal trademark on the phrase “Hillary Clinton,” which was used in commerce through authoring and publishing books for monetary gain. A claim that a political candidate has rights to a domain name simply because the domain exactly matches their name, or because their name is well known to the public, will not automatically succeed. (see #5 for an example where another Clinton’s claim was unsuccessful)
During the hillaryclinton.com arbitration, lots of evidence was produced, including documentation of additional infringing domain names registered by the cybersquatting Respondent and other parties. Hillary Clinton’s situation was so unique that some of the NAF panelists wrote a blog after her case had concluded, calling Hillary Clinton ‘the Most “Cybersquatted” Name This Election’.
Bringing a case before domain court costs thousands of dollars in fees and multiplies depending on the number of panelists selected to hear the case, plus attorneys’ fees, and most lucrative of all – time, a lot of it.
UDRP Doesn’t Always Work
5. President Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton (D) filed his own case before NAF, requesting ownership be transferred for williamclinton.com, williamjclinton.com, and presidentbillclinton.com. His attorneys argued the domains were clearly not registered in good faith, because since registration they had been pointed to the web site of the Republican National Committee.
Like many politicians, celebrities and ordinary people, President Clinton had not registered his name as a registered trademark. Yet in this matter, the arbitrator who decided the case did stipulate that Clinton’s “best-selling books are probably enough to qualify his personal name as a common law mark.” But that fact alone wasn’t enough to sway the panel. The cybersquatting Respondent was allowed to keep his domains. Interestingly, this person also owns domains using the names of Barack Obama and John McCain.
The 1 Political Campaign That Prevented Cybersquatting
Donald Trump was smart in his plight to head off cybersquatting. He is reported to have prevent acquired over 3,000 domain names (although a complete list was not provided upon our request), including the official domain name for his campaign, donaldjtrump.com.
Trump also made strategic, so-called “sucks” registrations, a topic which FYNE® Blog will cover in the future. His “sucks” list includes names like Ihatetrumpvodka.com, trumpnetworksucks.com, donaldtrumpponzischeme.com, and donaldtrumpsucks.com. He even cast a wide enough net to protect his wife and family, with several domain names including ivankatrumpeyes.com and other similar domain names – some so raunchy we can only post after midnight. Trump’s campaign says in doing so, he has achieved his objective to stop “predatory people” from damaging his image.
Sure, it costs money to proactively register dozens, hundreds, or thousands of protective domain names, but it’s a lot more expensive to argue ownership rights after the fact in domain court. As stated earlier in this article, domains can be used creatively and effectively to make your political campaign stand out from the rest.
Bonus: 2 Strange & Expensive Political Domain Mistakes
1. Rand Paul
Republican 2016 presidential candidate, Rand Paul, learned a costly cybersquatting lesson in his failed pursuit of the party’s nomination. The Senator from Kentucky reportedly paid $100,000 for randpaul.com. That’s obviously a lot of money, but the real odd factor was who the payment went to. The owners of randpaul.com were supporters of his campaign.
The enormous size of the payment not only proves how lucrative politicians’ names may be in the digital world, but also shows the lengths to which a candidate may go to control the message conveyed by a domain name bearing their name.
2. Chris Christie
Current Governor of New Jersey and fellow unsuccessful Republican 2016 presidential candidate, Chris Christie, had to secure chrischristie.com from a Wisconsin man of the same name. The amount was unreported, but those close to Christie’s campaign said it was substantial. Here’s an example where the candidate looked at President Clinton’s domain court case and made an informed, calculated decision to pay.
To avoid sizable campaign expenditures for domain name disputes or private agreements, delays in launching your web site or even embarrassment, preemptively register domain names at the first thought of running for office. Do it before you tell your spouse, assistant, or even your pet. We’ve seen videos of dogs surfing the web… just sayin’.