Is cyber-squatting alive and well in South Africa? A local company which goes by the name Wizard and Genius seems to think so. It owns the domains for four trademarked names that belong to motor manufacturer, Hyundai: i10.co.za, i20.co.za, i30.co.za, and ix35.co.za – the code numbers for car models made by Hyundai.

Each domain currently redirects to a Wizard and Genius holding page, which plainly states that the company is willing to rent out the domains to interested Hyundai dealers, or sell them. They don’t come cheap, either – possibly due to the alleged high number of hits each domain gets, daily. Wizard and Genius says that the domains garner between 4 700 and 7 640 hits per day, enough, it seems, to command of R5 000 or R6 000 per month, per domain.

If you’d like to be in control of the domain – the specifics of which we could not extract from Ben (no last name provided) at Wizard and Genius – you’ll have to cough up. i10.co.za will cost you R300 000; i20 a little more, at R500 000; i30 and ix35 are clearly more popular, with R750 000 being the going rate. A potential buyer can score a bargain by netting all four domains for R2.2 million – a saving of R100 000.

Speaking to the masterminds behind this scheme, we learned that they had contacted Hyundai, but had so far received no reply.

We asked whether offering domains in this fashion has proven to be a successful business model, to which Ben replied, “Unfortunately we have not sold any domains to date.”

Hyundai South Africa’s marketing manager, Francois Marais, says that they’ve not been made a formal offer for the domains, though. It’s unlikely to buy the domains, too, because pointing people to the Hyundai site directly is a better strategy, according to Marais.

“Ideally we would like to own the domains but we are usually forced to find creative substitutes for these names to facilitate the campaigns as they are usually short term. Our main focus would really to be to drive traffic to our main brand page and branch off consumers from there to our other platforms” he says.

In 2011, Hyundai bought the domain www.myten.co.za to run a promotion for its Hyundai i10 model – a creative way to completely bypass the need for the i10.co.za domain.

Hyundai’s behaviour is typical of most big companies nowadays, and the days of making money by selling valuable domain names is probably behind us. Recently it’s surfaced that Microsoft and Sony don’t own the domains for their respective consoles; XboxOne.com, Xbox1.com, and PlayStation4.com are owned by domain campers. Nintendo also doesn’t own WiiU.com, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has ruled against the Japanese company’s attempt to claim the domain.

Nintendo will likely have to spend a lot more money on lawyers and court cases, or just fork out the princely sum the current owners want for the domain. In 2010 the lucrative Sex.com sold for $13 million, and last year relaunched as a porn sharing hub. Also in 2010, Dating.com sold for $1.75 million. There’s been no news about local domains going for high prices. There have been rumours of domains like Insurance.co.za going for R1 million, but no concrete evidence of the sales going through, nor mentions of the prices paid.

Having recently launched a new website (ie htxt.africa) we’ve run into lot of people who think they’re going to make a fortune by selling on the rights to use .co.za domains. But the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)takes quite a strong position against the practice. For starters, it’s currently driving through a program of introducing hundreds of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) such as .africa, .capetown and .johannesburg which will make cybersquatting particular words and phrases impractical – a store owner who wants ‘johnshardwareshop.co.za’, for example, can get ‘johnshardwareshop.joburg’ if someone owns the former domain and is trying to extort cash for it.

There’s also the matter of an existing arbitration process for trademarked names that ICANN has set up, which includes a process whereby trademark holders can submit documentation proving that they have a greater claim to a domain than the existing holder, and if the arbitration panel agrees they can force the owner to give up the rights to a domain name and hand them over to the trademark holder.

In the case above, Wizard and Genius would have to prove that it intend to use the domains it holds for non-competing products. Even then, Hyundai owns trademarks for products with those exact names.

Ben, from Wizard and Genius, says that he’s well aware of the process, adding that they’ve had litigation thrown at them before.

“However if domains are of a generic nature the dispute usually continues for many years and usually benefits the initial register [sic] party,” he said.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here is Exhibit A.
A ransom note that the courts would likely call “Exhibit A”.

We asked Francois if Hyundai would consider using the arbitration process to acquire the domains.

“At this stage – I don’t foresee any major desire to own these domains right now or that Hyundai SA would necessarily want to pay large legal bills in order to gain ownership of them,” he replied.

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Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.