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The Notorious John Zuccarini

One example of a cybersquatter is the notorious John Zuccarini, who operated a domain name speculation business, prior to his arrest in 2003. Zuccarini registered thousands of domains that were misspellings of popular children’s brands, Click to Visit our Sponsor - Internet Law Firm such as Cartoon Network, Hot Wheels, and Britney Spears. Zuccarini deviated from the typical cybersquatting business model of displaying advertisements, by redirecting his target audience of children to adult-oriented websites. Once users were taken to these websites, it became extremely difficult for them to exit; using a tactic called "mousetrapping," Zuccarini obstructed users' ability to close their browser or go back to the previous page. If users clicked on the close or back button, a new window would open.

On September 3, 2003, Zuccarini was arrested and became the first person prosecuted under the Truth in Domains Act, which made it a federal crime to use a misleading domain name with the intent to deceive a person into viewing obscenity or to deceive a minor into viewing adult-oriented content. Zuccarini pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.

In addition to the criminal proceedings, dozens of trademark owners brought civil lawsuits against Zuccarini to recover the cybersquatted domain names. In one groundbreaking action, Office Depot v. Zuccarini, Case No. 00-406, the plaintiff obtained a money judgment against Zuccarni, and sought to enforce the judgment by seizing Zuccarini’s remaining domain names to sell at auction. In September 2007, the Honorable Susan Illston of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Zuccarini’s domain names constituted personal property located in California—the site of the domain name registry—and were subject to seizure to satisfy the judgment against Zuccarini. Judge Illston found:

In light of the foregoing, faced with the somewhat metaphysical question of where the intangible property comprising a domain name exists, this Court will follow Congress’ suggestion in ACPA that a domain name exists in the location of both the registrar and the registry. As such, this is the appropriate Court to oversee levy upon domain names listed on the VeriSign registry.