In February, I was contacted by a writer who got the following email, which I reproduce exactly as it was received, redacting only names and email addresses:
From: treey [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 2:22 AM
To: [email address redacted]
Subject: Notice of Intellectual Property Protection
Dear Sir or Madam:
We are a domain name registration service company in China. Yesterday we received a formal application submited by Mr. Steven who wanted to use the keyword "[name redacted]" to register the Internet Brand and with suffix such as .cn /.com.cn /.net.cn/.hk/ .asia/ domain names.
After our initial examination, we found that these domain names to be applied for registration are same as your domain name and trademark. We don’t know whether you have any relation with Mr.Steven. Because these domain names would produce possible dispute, now we have hold down the registration of Mr.Steven, but if we do not get your company’s any reply in the next 5 working days, we will approve this application soon. In order to handle this issue better, Please contact us by fax or email as soon as possible.
Attorney at law of Legal Department
Tel: 86 0513 8011 8536
Fax: 86 0513 8011 8539
The writer, who had long ago registered her own .com domain name, wanted to know if this was legit. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but it definitely seemed suspicious, not least because of the bad English and the many errors. I told her I suspected it was a scam, and suggested that she not respond.
Now, from the very informative Shelf Awareness newsletter, comes an item that seems to confirm my hunch. Rainy Day Books, a bookstore located in Kansas, recently received a similar email from an outfit calling itself Shanghai Chooke Network Information Technology Co., Ltd. When the bookstore co-owner, Geoffrey Jennings, responded that his company would litigate any infringement of its trademark, Shanghai Chooke "threatened that if the owners of Rainy Day Books ever wanted to do business in Asia, they should consider acting to protect their company and would be given 'priority to register these domain names.'"
Jennings believes that this is an attempt by cybersquatters to extract money from existing website owners. He says,
"It would appear that this company wants to generate revenue by registering and 'protecting' domains for U.S. businesses. This may or may not be legitimate, but their tactics suggest extreme caution in communicating with them. In all likelihood, any payment to them would be the tip of a nightmare. If anyone wants to register foreign variations on their web address, there are far more legitimate companies to do business with. My suggestion is to ignore any such inquiry entirely."
As the inquiry I received in February shows, businesses are not the only target of this scheme. Writers, beware.