Trademarks in Subdomains - Copyright Issues
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Good question. The Anticybersquatting Law of 1999 covers only the specific case of cybersquatting, which means squatting:
It makes people who register domain names that are either trademarks or individual's names with the sole intent of selling the rights of the domain name to the trademark holder or individual for a profit liable to civil action.
So that's not the copyright or trademark law we're concerned with. In fact there is no real law covering domain names, but there have been a lot of lawsuits. Specifically with regard to trademarks in subdomains, Google was sued because it hosted jewsforjesus.blogspot.com on Blogger.
Trademarks in domain names is a general trademark issue, and whether you're using it as a second-level domain (laptops.com) or third-level (apple.laptops.com), you can be sued. In fact, there have been suits for trademarks appearing in other places in the domain name, such as laptops.com/apple.
When you're dealing with a gray area like this, the important thing to remember is that it's all about whether consumers can be confused. If they land on your web page whether it's at apple.laptops.com or at laptops.com/apple or even at laptops.com/bongo, and it looks like it could possibly be the Apple website itself, then you have a problem.
This is especially compounded if your title elements use the trademark name without identifying your own main site.
Remember, trademarks are typically owned by companies with deep pockets, and regardless of the merits of your case, litigation will cost you far more than it will be worth to you.
You will find life easier if you keep these points in mind:
If you are putting a trademark name in the title attribute of the page, include your own site name or trademark somewhere in that. Don't say "Apple Powerbooks." Instead, say "Apple Powerbooks at MyLaptops.com"
On the page where you display the products associated with the trademark, make sure that your own trademark/site name is visible and prominent, and make sure it links back to the main page and other parts of your site.
Do not attempt to imitate the look and feel of the website belonging to the trademark owner. Make sure your site/page is distinct, and the more it looks like the rest of your site the better.
When you have a substantial amount of content or product listings related to the trademark, display a disclaimer saying that you are not affiliated with the trademark owner.
This post does not constitute legal advice. You should talk to an intellectual property rights lawyer if you are really interested in this issue.
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