What You Need to Know About .sucks Domain Names


The sunrise period for trademark owners to register their .sucks domain names has started. That means owners of federally registered trademarks (and celebrities) can pay around $2,000 to get their brands’ .sucks domain names before those domains go on sale to the general public on June 1, 2015.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The cost to secure your .sucks domain name before anyone else can get it is at least $2,000. If you wait until June 1, you can register any .sucks domain for $249 per year.

If you’d prefer, you can get a discount and pay just $10 per year but you have to agree to redirect your traffic to Vox Populi’s discussion network at everything.sucks.com.

Vox Populi (a division of Momentous) is the company that won an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) auction to operate and sell the .sucks domains. Last year, over 500 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) were approved by ICANN (the non-profit organization that sets policies for the global domain name system), including .sucks and .porn, and 1,300 more are expected to debut in the next few years. However, most are far less controversial.

The reason the .sucks domain is getting so much hype is because of the exorbitant prices Vox Populi is charging trademark owners.

ICANN has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into the matter and determine if Vox Populi’s pricing scheme is predatory. For now, brands like Apple, Walmart, Microsoft, and Home Depot, as well as celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey, are paying big bucks for their .sucks domain names.

4 Things About .sucks Domain Names

Should you pay to register your brand’s .sucks domain name during the sunrise period? Should you register it after the sunrise period ends? Here are four things you should understand about domain names so you can make the right decision for your brand and your business:

1. If You Don’t buy your .sucks Domain Name, Someone Else Probably Will

It is very possible that if you don’t register your .sucks domain name, someone else will do so. There are a number of things they could do with the domain after they register it:

They Could Squat and do Nothing With It

They could sit on the domain and never use it to publish any content. In this case, there isn’t any harm to your business, but that could always change in the future.

They Could use it to Complain About Your Business and Brand

See point number four below to learn more about how this could impact your business.

They Could use it to Sell Products or Services That are Similar to Yours

If this happens, then there is a likelihood of confusion between your brand and theirs. If you have a trademark registration for your brand name, then you can send a cease and desist demand letter asking them to stop using your brand name.

If they don’t comply and you own the trademark, you can file a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) complaint, which will cost you at least $1,500 but will get the site taken down if the other party doesn’t have a legitimate use for the domain.

They Could use it to Sell Products or Services that are Completely Unrelated to Yours

If the products and services are not similar to yours, then it is unlikely that consumers would confuse your business with theirs even though both use the same brand name.

In this case, there isn’t really anything you can do to stop them, but be sure to read point number three below to learn more about brand dilution considerations.

They Could use it to Publish Content That you may or may not Like

If the content they publish is related to your business, see point number four below to learn more. If the content is completely unrelated to your business, then there isn’t much you can do, but you should read point number three below to understand how this could lead to brand dilution.

2. You are Responsible for Policing Your Brand, Including use by Others Online.

The law will not protect a fool from his own folly. You are responsible for policing your brand and the use of your brand by others — both online and offline. If you own the registered trademark for your brand name, you’re responsible for enforcing that registration. If you don’t enforce your rights, you might lose them.

Therefore, you don’t have to register your .sucks domain name, but you do need to have a program in place to monitor your brand, identify problems and enforce your trademark rights in a timely manner. That includes use of your brand name in any domain name, including .sucks domain names.

3. You Shouldn’t Ignore the Potential for Brand Dilution

If you allow someone else to register your brand’s .sucks domain name, and they use it to publish content that could indirectly cast your brand in a negative light, you can’t stop them or the resulting harm to your brand reputation.

That negative association with your brand name can dilute your brand in the marketplace causing it to lose value.

With that in mind, don’t ignore uses of your brand name that are not trademark conflicts, because they could still hurt your brand reputation and dilute its value.

This is a time when a focused marketing and public relations campaign is essential to separate your brand from the negativity so you don’t have to invest in an expensive rebranding in the future.

4. .sucks is Just the Tip of the Iceberg.

If someone wants to publish negative content about your brand and business online, they’re going to do it. In the United States, free speech allows people to express their opinions, and the Internet and social media make it extremely easy for anyone to do so.

Think of it this way. If your brand is “Ampic” and a dissatisfied customer wants to start a website to complain about your brand, they could register Ampic.sucks and start publishing negative content within minutes. Let’s say you spent $2,000 to secure your .sucks domain name. That wouldn’t deter an angry customer. He could register AmpicSucks.com, AmpicSucks.net, AmpicReally.sucks or any other creative variation he wants.

Even the largest businesses in the world can’t register every negative phrase combined with their brand names using all of the available gTLDs. Again, unless a site that includes your brand name in its domain name is selling products and services that could cause consumer confusion about the source of those products and services, there isn’t much you can do to stop them from continuing to use the domain name or publishing content on their site.

What Should Small Businesses Do about .sucks Domain Names?

Remember, there are limitations to every law, including trademark laws.

However, if you don’t have a federal trademark registration for your brand name, it will be very hard to stop others from using that name to sell similar goods and services. And if you do have a federal trademark registration for your brand name, you’re responsible for policing it and enforcing it.

Turning a blind eye to infringements could lead to the loss of your trademark rights.

Only you can decide whether or not you want to invest in your brand’s .sucks domain name.

If you’re doing so in an effort to stop people from complaining about your brand online, then you could get your .sucks domain name as a pre-emptive measure of protection. But where there is a will to complain, there is always a way to do so. For every .sucks domain name, there are thousands of other creative options available.

And remember, in the next few years, another 1,300 gTLDs are coming, which will give people even more options.

Domain Image via Shutterstock

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Kelley Keller


Kelley Keller Kelley Keller is CEO of Kelley Keller Law and a 20-year veteran of the intellectual property law field with experience helping businesses of all sizes (including many household brands) identify, manage, and protect their trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.

18 Reactions

  1. This seems like extortion to me. Like the second coming of RipOffReport.

    • Robert, That’s the word a lot of people are using to describe, and that’s why ICANN asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into it. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  2. I think the .Sucks domain sucks because its new and there are so many possible combos in its “neighborhood” that users are likely to assume my business will be in there and try to visit the site. I feel like I have to buy the .sucks for my business because other companies (and people complaining about other companies) will be there and so a lot of traffic related to complaining will end up going there over time. I can’t buy every combo but I feel like I have to get my exact matching business name. The regulator or congress should just shut this down to avoid giving people this spot to complain and forcing brands to register another name.

    • Brian, If you own the trademark, it’s important to show that you’re trying to protect it in order to retain all of your rights and make enforcement easier in the future. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to pay thousands of dollars for a .sucks domain name. It’s extremely important for every brand owner and business to have a domain name strategy to ensure branded marks can actually be protected in case of infringement in the future.

  3. Hi Kelsey,

    Dear Brand owner,

    I’m not so certain that someone else will register your .sucks domain name. Sure for prolific brands such as Verizon or Apple it could be the case, but for the rest, nah. The security industry thrives on paranoia, but don’t get carried away by their rethorics. And don’t accept Vox Populi’s extortionist prices.

    Anyway, .sucks is not for you, it’s for your customers. If someone really decides to go through the effort and create a .sucks website with content, then you can see why you suck, and do something about it.

    Should Verizon try to silence all their critics? No, they should engage with them and improve their service instead.

  4. Christopher, Every business and brand owner needs to make the decision that is best for them. The important thing to consider is that it doesn’t matter how big your brand is, not protecting your name/mark could end up in your losing rights to enforce it against infringement in the future. That doesn’t mean you have to pay thousands of dollars for a .sucks domain but you do need to have a domain name strategy in place to protect your brand and business.

    • Absolutely. I don’t recommend turning a blind eye. My proposal is a mix of various tools :

      1) Register domains which are close to your service / product / brand name
      2) DPML block at Donuts
      3) URS disputes when necessary
      4) Ignore when it’s too far from 1) and engage when it’s .sucks 😉

  5. Ms. Keller,

    I was encouraged to see how succinctly you captured the intent of the dotSucks domain names.

    “Only you can decide whether or not you want to invest in your brand’s .sucks domain name.

    “If you’re doing so in an effort to stop people from complaining about your brand online, then you could get your .sucks domain name as a pre-emptive measure of protection. But where there is a will to complain, there is always a way to do so. For every .sucks domain name, there are thousands of other creative options available.”

    A company cannot defend every corner of the Internet (just look at how many “fill-in-the-blank company sucks” communities there are on Facebook alone), but it can create a more effective place where insight can be drawn from criticism. That is what I hope companies will decide to do.

    In the end, very few brands have registered their domain names in the new gTLDs (at best so far a thousand or so of the millions of marks that exist), but dotSucks names represent a different kind of opportunity to connect.

    Cheers,

    John Berard

  6. John, Thank you for the insightful comment. I agree with you. From a marketing perspective it’s important to monitor your brand and connect when necessary, and from a legal perspective, it’s important to have the right domain name strategy in place to not only protect your brand today but also in the future. What you don’t do today could get you in trouble later, so business and brand owners need to understand what they need to do in order to protect their trademarks for a very long time.

  7. Hey Kelly, I’m a bit new to the gTLD world, so pardon me if this is a dumb question. Is there a reason another company couldn’t buy a derivation of the domain .sucks, like .reallysucks or .hate? Is the only thing stopping those TLDs from existing approval from ICANN? If so, would that mean companies would need to purchase their domain for each of these TLDs?

    • Thom, no question is a dumb question. The ICANN website has a frequently asked questions page that provides a lot of information about domain name extensions that should help to answer your question: http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/applicants/customer-service/faqs/faqs-en.

      In answer to your other question about which domains companies should purchase, I’m actually writing an article for Small Business Trends right now about developing a small business domain name strategy, which will hopefully be published here within the next week or so. It should answer your question so stay tuned!

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  9. I wish there were more focus on some of the awesome options for cause marketing or hilarious advertising campaigns – like hunger.sucks, cancer.sucks, anxiety.sucks, pollution.sucks, mondaymorning.sucks, badbreath.sucks, etc. On the other end, if you have a lot of customers telling you your company sucks – there’s a huge opportunity for you to learn from your customers and make improvements. We sell .sucks at Rebel.com and we hope more people will use the domain in creative and fun ways when general availability opens up, or engage in a meaningful conversation with their customers.

  10. Alex Yong

    Good points. Personally I feel this new gTLD .sucks sucks. One wouldn’t be able to say “mercanaries.sucks” without looking like you failed 6th grade English class, because proper conjugation would be “mercenaries.suck” So that’s another point to be aware of, albeit a small one.

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