Donald Trump's acquisition of up to 3,000 domain names in a bid to stop people discrediting him online shows a lack of understanding of the internet and how it works.
The multi-millionaire, potential presidential candidate and the original version of Alan 'You're fired!' Sugar has bought a string of domain names over the years, including trumpisfired.com (a play on his catchphrase from the original US version of The Apprentice) and TrumpNetworkSucks.com. Others among the cornucopia of all things digitally Trump include TrumpNetworkFraud.com and DonaldTrumpPonziScheme.com. Still others refer to past or potential business ventures like TrumpCoffeeBeans.com, TrumpIceCreamParlor.com, TrumpDoll.com, IHateTrumpVodka.com and TrumpTats.com. And some just seem to be there because somebody, somewhere, thought they might be funny, like TrumportunityKnocks.com.
Trump's son, Eric, says the company acquired these addresses to protect it against 'predatory people' and that the company acquires thousands of domains each year. But the sheer number of potentially negative domain names means that the strategy is flawed from the start. So far, Donald Trump's acquisitions have tended to involve more traditional top-level domains like .com, .net and .org. But with the recent addition of thousands of new top-level domains like .london, .global and .company, his domain bill could be set to increase dramatically.
And he's not the only one. Pop behemoth Taylor Swift recently took the precautionary step of registering taylorswift.porn and taylorswift.adult, both of which are new domain extensions soon to become available due to a massive expansion of the internet's Domain Name System. You can see the logic, but the sheer variety of potential domain names means that it's simply not possible, even with the kind of budgets available to the Trumps and Swifts of the world, to register them all.
As it happens, there are laws already in place to protect brands if someone tries to use their trademark in a domain to confuse buyers or to make money out of the brand's reputation. As the .UK domain name registry, we at Nominet have considerable experience in domain disputes. Since we were established in 2001, our Dispute Resolution Service has seen over 10,000 cases. The recent example of the domain name "ilovealdi.co.uk" being used for an online shopping website is a case in point. The owner was eventually ordered to hand over the domain to the German discount giant, as he was found to be seeking to take unfair advantage of someone else's reputation to make a profit. For his part, the respondent maintained that the site was simply an expression of his genuine love for Aldi.
While there may be a case for buying up some of the more likely names that have a potential to mislead or cause embarrassment, it's worth remembering that an aggressive defensive domain registration strategy across all new domain extensions cannot guarantee protection. For most brands it's unlikely to be worthwhile bulk-buying domains they don't want simply to block them - to use current teen parlance, 'haters gonna hate', and anyone with a grudge against a brand is likely to come up with a derogatory or embarrassing domain name if that's what they really want to do. And as yet, the new domain names have not given rise to wholesale cyber-squatting (the dispute between Playboy magazine and a self-described London-based 'playboy' property developer over playboy.london notwithstanding).
However, one upcoming domain extension that's likely to inspire some protective purchases is .sucks. With its unusually high registration fees for trademarks of $2,500 USD (in comparison, a .co.uk domain costs around £5 a year), the company behind .sucks is being accused of trying to 'exploit trademark owners' by charging them 'exorbitant' sums to register their .sucks domain, in order to prevent it being used as a complaint site.
Donald Trump has already shelled out for trumpnetworkmarketingsucks.com, donaldtrumpsucks.com, trumpvodkasucks.com and more, but simply buying yourbrand.sucks isn't going to prevent criticism of your brand on the internet. If someone really wants it, there's nothing to stop them registering trumpvodkareally.sucks, or trumpvodkaso.sucks or any number of variants.
As many brands will testify, you can't prevent people from voicing criticism on the internet - and the spirit of democracy should allow them to do so. Perhaps in this instance Mr Trump should sideline his catchphrase from The Apprentice, "You're fired" (for which he also fired a trademark application) in favour of another teen trope, "Whatever..."