NDP asks cybersquatter to stop using phony URLs to redirect traffic

B.C. resident David Bedford has de-linked bogus public sector Web sites to the New Democratic Party after it asked him to stop re-directing traffic to its home page.

The domains, which include winnipegpolice.ca, reginapolice.ca, saskatoonpolice.ca, edmontonpolice.ca and windsorpolice.ca, now re-point users to domainbaron.com — Bedford’s own anti-Stephen Harper Web site.

“It’s my understanding that Mr. Bedford has de-linked to NDP.ca and is now directing individuals to content that he’s created,” said Ian Capstick, NDP press secretary.

But Bedford, who spoke with ITBusiness.ca Thursday, acknowledged that a “handful” of private domains such as 711.ca will continue to take users to the NDP’s site until the Jan. 23 election. After that date, visitors to those Web sites will be re-pointed to his own “money-making monetization traffic club.”

“The NDP party asked me specifically not to point the public ones to the NDP,” said Bedford, who has a company called Abundance Computer Consulting. “I don’t have to. I can point it to wherever I want to.”

And, technically, Bedford can. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) registers domain names on a first come, first serve basis, said CIRA director of communications, Gabriel Ahad.

Ahad acknowledges that public safety is an issue in this case but adds that it’s not an uncommon problem. “There’s always been an issue where a domain name is used in an unusual way,” he said, citing alarm companies’ domains as an example. “We’ve seen that happen for 10 years.”

Despite receiving a threatening letter from the Edmonton police service’s legal department citing infringements of the Trademark Act and the Police Act, Bedford is not deterred — he’s familiar with the legal ramifications of his actions. In May 2003 the federal government won a challenge to claim ownership of a series of dot-ca names, including statscanada.ca, that he had registered under his name. Two months after the order was handed down, however, Bedford, who goes by the name Darwin on his Web site after the famous evolutionist, continued to use those names and several others to direct traffic to various sites, including atheists.net.

“You’re making the assumption that putting the words “Winnipeg” and “police” together and you’re coming up with the police department,” he said. “That’s the end users’ own assumption.”

A spokesperson for Regina police service said they are aware of the problem but couldn’t provide any further details on any legal actions taken.

“We don’t hold every domain name possible for Regina police services,” said Lara Guzik, Regina police service spokesperson.

In terms of legal recourse, domain names in Canada are not protected by the criminal code like they are in the U.S., which has an anti-cybersquatting law. In Canada, victims like the police service agencies have two choices if they don’t want to go to court, said Toronto tech lawyer Rob Hyndman. If it’s a dot-ca domain, the plaintiff can go through the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) dispute resolution process. Or, if it’s not a dot-ca domain, they can go through similar processes by International Communications and Navigation (ICAN), for example. If the plaintiff, however, chooses to go to court, they can try to get an order from a judge that the accused is infringing on their trademark. Trademark in this case refers to commerce in connection with sale of a company’s goods. It can even refer to a person, such as in the recent case with deputy prime minister Ann McClellan where somebody was squatting on her name.

Hyndman, however, points out that all of these routes are often arduous battles.

“It’s not a slam dunk in either case,” he said. “There needs to be identical or confusingly similar names and they need to be able to demonstrate bad faith on the part of the registrant.”

Legal battles aside, Bedford suggested that Canada could adopt a similar system as the U.K., which has several domain extensions such as com.uk, co.uk and org.uk.

“They break down the uses of the domain names,” he said. “In Canada you only have .ca.”

Bedford added that a possible solution could be a domain extension such as public.ca.

To aid registrants, CIRA offers tips on its Web site under a section called “What’s in a name?” The guide provides users with hints for protecting their domain name registration such as keeping dot-ca registration current.

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