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Ask HN: how to buy a domain name from a squatter?
34 points by old-gregg on Sept 30, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
I've grown frustrated with the process: I've been sending emails to whois contact info but haven't managed to get a single response.

The squatter's main intent is to squat on domains to sell them for profit, right? Why, then, is it so hard to reach them?

Last year I was in a similar boat; after getting no response from the domain owner via email and postal mail (the phone number was either out-of-date or bogus), I enlisted the help of a domain brokerage service (Sedo).

The way it works is you pay for an "appraisal" of the domain, then they work on commission (a percentage of the eventual selling price of the domain).

The broker I worked with was able to get ahold of the domain owner, but the price they wanted was way out of line with reality. The broker claimed to have aggressively negotiated, and went back to the domain owner several times over the following months, but no sale was ever made. The commission-based compensation model seems to me to be an inherent conflict of interest, but my impression was that the broker was negotiating on my behalf in good faith.

Would be curious if anyone has a success story here. I know someone who used a different brokerage service (BuyDomains) to attempt to purchase a different domain, and were also unsuccessful - in that case the broker was also unable to reach the owner listed on WHOIS.

I considered using a domain broker but thought that they would take it for themselves if it was cheap.

I was not able to locate the owner because he did not answer emails to the whois address but he had the same whois info for other sites that were active. I went to one of those sites and was able to go get in contact with him. Price was ten times what I was willing to pay so I passed.

Inaccurate whois records are grounds for cancellation of a domain name. If you feel that the contact information is outdated or inaccurate, bring it up with ICANN. If the squatter is being lazy it may free up the domain.

Seriously. I've had similar experiences with squatters. If their business is selling these domains, it's just good business to keep WHOIS records up to date.

I've grown frustrated with the process...

Then stop wasting time on it. You must have way more important things to do.

Here's a thought: Get a virgin domain name for $6 and market the shit out of it. You really didn't expect to skip the marketing step with a domain name that someone else thought was important, did you?

If you want the name that badly, trademark it and have a lawyer start the ICANN dispute process to take the name from the squatter. This will cost you some $$$ in legal fees, but probably less than the squatter is willing to spend in defending the name.


How To Trademark a Domain Name: http://www.allbusiness.com/technology/internet-domain-names/...

ICANN Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy: http://www.icann.org/en/udrp/udrp.htm

Have you actually done this, or is it a theory? ICANN is clear about what constitutes bad faith: "circumstances indicating that you have registered or you have acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant who is the owner of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of your documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name."

If you aren't registering for the purpose of selling to the complainant, it's not bad faith. And it's hard to have bough it to sell to a TM that didn't exist when you registered. You really don't have to tell that much of a story in order to justify your squatting.

See, for instance, (.doc, blame WIPO) http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/word/2009/d2009...

Important to know: negotiating the sale of a domain to a purchaser is evidence of bad faith on the part of the seller because the seller. If a person wants to keep the domain name, not answering the emails is a better option than asking for any amount of money.

To win via UDRP, the complainant has to prove: 1) the domain name is confusing, 2) there is no legitimate use of the domain name, and 3) bad faith in use.

UDRP is nice because it is administrative and lawyers typically aren't used. You just file paperwork.

However, with the Anti Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), bad faith is met by proving bad faith in registration, not in use. That is a much easier standard to prevail on.

ACPA is civil litigation. It has more teeth to it when you win and lose, so lawyers are recommended because you may lose your right to appeal if you don't do things correctly during trial.

Also, remember that trademarks only exist when used to identify goods in the stream of commerce. A person does not acquire a trademark simply by registering a domain name. Therefore, old-gregg may own the trademark if he was the first to use it to identify goods in the stream of commerce.

Side note: if your "squatter" is outside the US, you have to use UDRP because you can't get jurisdiction in VA for ACPA when the person isn't in the US.

I admit that I haven't done this personally, and IANAL.. He should definitely talk to a real lawyer about it!

I was making the assumptions that 1. the OP wants the name for legitimate business use (not resale), 2. the name isn't already trademarked elsewhere, 3. the name isn't confusingly similar to another legitimate business.

My suggestion was more to incorporate the business, and launch with a similar domain name, trademark everything, and get the business started before trying to take the name from the squatter.

I realize most people here are in the Internet generation, but nothing says Serious Business Proposal like having FedEx put a letter in his hand that says "I paid $15 so that you could read this TODAY" on the outside of it.

I've tried for PDR tools . com (hopefully the spaces will save from this in the search results) ...

- the squatter was


I have contacted them - but they want $30k , I think they are counting on PDR standing for physicians desk reference not - Paintless dent repair .... (our industry isn't as wealthy as the doctors) .. the squatter couldn't even reason out their value - although I reasoned them our offer (10k).

- but yeah its frustrating ...

- I did have some success recently buying Hail.org from a individual... but hail.com (currently a not updated in 10 years) website about hail technology... he seemed intent on teaching me a lesson about something, (just a pissed off out dated old computer nerd..the kind that hate the 'new blood')

From a "squatter-like" perspective:

I have domains that I don't use. People have contacted me, made a decent offer, and I've sold the domain to them. So, if it looks like the domain is held by someone who just isn't using it (like me), then you may be able to make a reasonable offer.

I experienced this once. Someone contacted me about a domain I had no use for with a pretty good story about why they needed it. He even showed me his work as a small timer in the entertainment industry with an interesting sounding project he had in mind for it. He offered a small sum and I decided to just avoid the hassle and give it for free as I probably would of let it expire in a year. I even paid the small fee yahoo wanted to transfer it.

I was curious and went to the site a few months later. The fucker is a domain shark on the side and the sites a parked page with a forsale contact on it.

Moral of the story is to google their name and spend a few minutes before giving/selling domains.

Very similar experience.

I had registered getwellconnected.com, which I had vague plans to use for a nonprofit idea to let sick kids in hospitals connect together.

I got an email from someone claiming to be a consultant working for a small hospital. They were building a site and wanted to use that domain name. They offered a fair but relatively small price, and since I didn't have immediate plans to work on my idea, I agreed to sell at the offered price - no higher.

A year later today, I see that the domain is parked. It's quite a good and general domain name. I registered it with plans to use it. What a ploy.

That's really sad, hopefully he felt some remorse that he duped you so effectively and didn't just go and brag about it on namepros and dnforum.

You may want to explore filing a UDRP complaint with ICANN. You don't need a lawyer necessarily. However, it does cost ~$1300 to file a complaint for 1 domain for a 1 person dispute panel (you can get up to 5 people on a panel.) End-to-end timeline from when you submit the complaint to when you get a judgment is about 30 days (can be up to 60, though.)

As already pointed out here, you do need a strong case and a existing trademark. In our case, we were looking to obtain rights to top-level .COM domain that was an acronym of our current site's fullname URL--the acronym was favorable for obvious reasons and we/our users had used the acronym extensively to reference our site.

You basically have to prove all three of these things:

(i) The domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and

(ii) The owner(s) have no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and

(iii) The domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith. (source: ICANN)

If you haven't gotten a response from the owner based on the WHOIS info, you can file a different type of ICANN complaint (free to file this one) that should force the registrar to contact the owner, who will update the WHOIS information. We had gone through this while trying to buy the domain from the squatter and not getting a response. We think he just updated WHOIS info with fictitious contact information again.

I'm somewhat surprised that no one has pointed out this angle yet:

Domain squatting is an abuse of a public resource for personal gain. There are more evil things to do, but it's hardly moral.

Do not give them money. (micks56 e.a. suggest other ways of getting your hands on the domain you want.)

> The squatter's main intent is to squat on domains to sell them for profit, right?

Not necessarily. Much domaining is about monetising traffic with minimal effort. A .com costs around $6 a year. Two cents a day in ad revenue makes you a profit.

Serious domainers do this on names that cost them much more than $6 to buy, but the renewal rates will still only be $6 a year, and the traffic revenue will be a lot more than two cents a day.

To them each domain is a small money-making business. They'll sell if the price is right, on discounted cashflow and all that, but that's not the primary intent. The main goal is to increase the number of domains making money and increase the amount of money each domain is making.

How anyone makes money on parked websites is way boyond me. Does anyone ever spend anything based on parked websites? I am sure google won't put ads on those sites. And really any ad service worth its salt should not pay anything for displaying ads on parked websites. (As those sites merely serve to annoy ppl). Yet somehow they make money.

> I am sure google won't put ads on those sites

Not only do they, but they have an entire scheme just for it:


> those sites merely serve to annoy ppl

Actually, parked domains convert really well.

Typosquatters and the like, yes, they're annoying, but that's not what we're talking about here. Most of these are vaguely generic domains or things that people are typing in because they assume there will be something useful on them. A well parked domain then directs them off to where they actually want to be (and makes some money in the process).

Don't forget, you only need to earn two cents per day to make a profit.

I really don't get where squatter prices come from. It's one thing if a domain is in use, has a history of high traffic, and has high potential through name length and/or brand potential. But a regular old squatting site that barely gets hit except by crawlers and link farms?

I think the problem stems from an unregulated marketplace. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for domain reselling to be regulated, I'm just saying the consequences of the reality of the situation is that somewhere along the way it became okay to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a $10/year commodity. Because of that, everyone thinks they can strike it rich by being greedy.

Personally I think a new model is needed for a majority of domain reselling. I've been working on a model that prices regular domains at cost to the owner times a premium factor. For instance, if you had a domain for ten years at $10/year, and multiplied it by a premium factor of not less than 1.5 and not greater than 3, the domain would sell for between $150 and $300. Not bad for a $100 investment. The premium factor would be calculated based on traditional characteristics (length, traffic, etc).

Don't get me wrong, I've been asked by buyers for domains I own and I'm not doing anything with and I see the dollar signs. But at the end of the day, I'd actually sell a domain using the above formula. And when I'm buying domains, it doesn't take that much effort to find an alternative to a taken domain... just use some imagination.

I don't get where the price of land comes from? It's just a unique patch of dirt that they own, that I want and I can't get anywhere else - why do they want to so much money for it? It's not like they have built an office block on it like I want to do!

Fair enough. Decent analogy, but not quite to the point. Land prices are adjusted over time due to quality of land, location, and surrounding. Domain prices are all relatively the same price new, but theoretically the next day someone can turn around and sell a new domain for tens of thousands of dollars.

If you're doing to make the real estate argument, then new domain purchases should also have variables pricing from the same domain provider such that somekeywords.com is more than gobblygook.com, don't you think?

To push the analogy further - no.

Unclaimed domain names are like parts of the wild west handed out to early claiments, they all had the same value/acre (=almost nothing). Then when a city had been built on them (=you have a brand) then the price goes up. Even if the owner didn't do any work to build the city, having an empty lot in the middle of it is still valuable.

50% return on investment over 10 years is not a good return. It's only like 5%.

It all depends if its a professional squatter or not.

A domain I wanted was once held by an amateur squatter. I made a decent offer, she counter-offered way too high, I declined. Thinking nobody would buy it if I wouldn't, she let it expire. I snatched it up for $10.

I hope you sent her a message along the lines of "Ha-Ha!".

A few weeks ago, I took about 4 hours to think up a domain not taken, and bought it for 5 years. Much cheaper (on an hourly rate) than paying a squatter, for example, $2000!

I've had a squatter insist that a domain was worth $10,500 just because it's "search terms" yielded a paltry 65,000 results....

It could be argued that the lower the amount of search terms yielded, the better.

Domain squatters are quite frustrating. I wanted to buy the .com version of my hn handle, but (after contacting them several times), they responded, saying they don't even consider anything less than $50,000. Yeesh. The .net version is owned by Future Media Architects, who are famous for never selling domain names. I haven't bothered to contact the people who own the .org.

Squatters, while I acknowledge their right to do what they do, are quite frustrating.

I've had success buying domains from individuals, but rarely from squatters (or domain holding companies, or whatever they call themselves). I think you'll find that unless you're able to get ahold of someone and offer them what seems like an exorbitant amount of money, you'll never get anywhere.

The cost of keeping a domain is so low that people generally aren't losing much by hanging onto it, particularly if they have a pretty decent parking page setup.

Check what other domains that person has registered. Or possibly even what other domains point to the same IP (unless it's a generic GoDaddy page or something)

Just because you can't get a domain name you want doesn't make the owner a squatter. I bet everyone who's commented here, probably everyone who's read this, has more than one domain they own that they aren't using at the moment. Are they squatters?

Maybe the reason you didn't get an answer is that they weren't interested in selling - you don't respond to every random email you get do you?

Don't even try.

Find a name that isn't taken and then register all the variations.

That's a fraction of the price and none of the hassle.

Buying a domain from a squatter is morally equivalent to settling out of court with the plaintiff on a frivolous lawsuit to avoid legal expenses. The difference is that in this case doing the right thing costs less money.

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