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Verizon awarded $33.15m against cybersquatter

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Verizon has been awarded $33.15m in a cybersquatting lawsuit against a shady domain aggregator that registered hundreds of websites using the telco's name and trademarks.

In a default judgment this week, a federal court in Northern California ruled this week that OnlineNIC should pay $50,000 for each of the 633 domains Verizon claims were created specifically to be confused with legitimate Verizon brands.

According to the lawsuit filed in June 2008, OnlineNIC used an automated process to claim sites such as verizononline.com, myverizonwireless.com, 123verizonphones.com, accountverizonwireless.com, and iphoneverizonplans.com. The fake Verizon sites hosted ad links and pop-under advertisements that resulted in revenue for OnlineNIC.

Verizon calls the decision "the largest cybersquatting judgment ever" – which is probably a bit far-reaching unless the company follows the ancient Mayan calendar in which the universe ends in 2012. And that award could be $22 zillion, for all it matters - the real trick will be collecting it. No one appeared in court on OnlineNIC's behalf, and Verizon itself can't figure out exactly who's behind the scheme, according to court documents.

Verizon claims that OnlineNIC conceals its owners' true identities and involvement by using numerous shell entities, fictitious businesses, and personal names for ICANN registration. The firm also allegedly deletes infringing domains within five days and then re-registers to avoid paying registration costs and to avoid detection by trademark owners.

OnlineNIC claims to be based in San Francisco, although its website offers an Oakland, California mailing address. Court filings show that Verizon was unable to find a correct mailing address for any OnlineNIC employees at which to serve the court summons.

Nevertheless, in a statement Verizon says that the judgment "should send a clear message and serve to deter cybersquatters who continue to run businesses for the primary purpose of misleading consumers."

Microsoft and Yahoo also have similar lawsuits currently pending against OnlineNIC. ®

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