My $500 Domain Buying Mistake, and How You can Avoid It

Realtor is a registered trademarkI’m a very casual domainer and have been buying some domains here and there over the last few years. One of the biggest mistakes I see new domainers make is buying domains with trademarked terms in them. I monitor NameJet for certain terms that drop, and have seen lots of obvious examples of trademark-ridden domains that have gone into auction at ridiculous prices. Do NOT be one of these people.

There’s obvious trademarks, but I fell into the not-so-obvious territory just a few months ago. This territory is real estate. I ended up picking up realtorsarasota.com for just under $500 in a NameJet auction for a friend of mine who is an actual Sarasota Realtor. Soon after I got cease and desist letter from the National Association of Realtors telling me to stop using the domain.

Since I had no legal ground to stand on, I had to redirect it to realtor.com until the domain name expires. A quick $500 down the drain. Similarly I have a friend in the industry who may end up losing his domain with the term “MLS” in it. That too is a trademark of the NAR.

When it comes to real estate domains, do not go after anything with “MLS” or “Realtor.” (Real estate, agent, homes, etc. are fair game since they’re generic terms.) About a year ago I saw therealtor.com dropping from SnapNames and the auction was already over $1000 – makes me feel sorry for whoever won that domain.

This lesson applies to most domain purchases. Before you spend a lot of money on a domain (through a  drop, private purchase, or new registration), be sure that it does not include a trademarked term. This is a lesson that diggdotus learned the hard way – Digg’s legal team forced them to change the domain because it included Digg’s trademark.

Some companies don’t go after domains that contain their trademarked term (like Google or Flickr), BUT they have every legal right to and might change their mind down the line. It’s best to avoid that situation all together.

The lesson here: check copyright.gov before you spend big money on a new domain.

If you want to learn more about copyright and trademark issues, check out Sarah Bird’s posts on Seomoz, here’s a good one to start with about Zappos.com.