We’ve never seen cybersquatting quite like this before.
In the summer of 2018, a customer came into Saté Kampar and told owner Ange Branca that she needed to finish building her website.
“We’ve never had a website,” Branca said. All the restaurant’s information is on Facebook and Instagram, but people kept reaching out, in person and via e-mail, to let her know the site was incomplete, offering to help her build it.
The site in question is now complete. Saté Kampar’s menu is there, alongside photos of her, descriptions of their food and even a quote attributed to her about why she had decided to open a restaurant. “When you’re spending 110 percent of your life meeting corporate goals, it makes one wonder, what [defines] you,” the site reads.
Problem is, Branca had nothing to do with it.
Cybersquatting, of course, is big business. But it’s unusual for there to be a full-blown website with pictures, quotes, and pseudo-accurate information. Typically, an anonymous person buys a domain name, then sells it to the business owner for an inflated price. Large companies with big teams can pursue legal action, but this type of process is lengthy and expensive for small businesses.
Over the course of a year, Branca says she went back and forth between Google and GoDaddy, Google telling her that they don’t own the content, and GoDaddy countering that they couldn’t remove it because they don’t own the domain. She sent emails, spoke with lawyers, and even filed a DMCA notice, which is supposed to help protect against these types of copyright infringements. None of it got her anywhere.
In these types of disputes, Google recommends reaching out directly to the owner of the website, but the identity of the person who owns the site is protected by a third-party service that specializes in protecting the anonymity of domain owners.
“I really think that whoever made this site intended to have me buy it,” Branca said. “Creating the website and remaining anonymous is reaching out. They wouldn’t reach out as a person, because then I would sue them for cybersquatting. I know that it costs money to even find out what it would cost me to buy the domain, and I don’t want to buy it.”
After months of fighting, Branca gave up. The site has been live for over a year now, just sitting there, providing slightly incorrect menu information, but not really hurting anyone, until a few months ago, when Saté Kampar updated their menu prices.
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It is aggravating that @google and @godaddy allow cybersquatting and are, in fact, profiting from it. They have caused us so much aggravation and damage to our brand. The menu on it is wrong, and our customers are upset with the wrong information provided by this website. It is costing us money. They have also used our trademark as well as professional photographs without paying for them. It is aggravating that @google and @godaddy ignore all our takedown demand letters and continue to profit from hosting fees, domain fees and advertisements. I know we are not alone. So many small businesses are victims of cybersquatting, and it is frustrating because we can’t afford the huge legal fees to fight large corporations protecting and allowing such crimes to continue. I hope this post can connect all the small business who are victims of cybersquatting so we may fight against others profiting from our trademark, brand and goodwill. And btw, no, I do not want to buy that domain name nor do I want to purchase any website building services, so stop trying to sell me that. #smallbusiness #smallbusinessowner #cybercrime #cybersquatting
A post shared by Saté Kampar (@satekamparphilly) on
“Lately, we have just had such a huge volume of complaints, that the actual prices in the restaurant are higher than those on the website,” Branca explained. “Because we do a price adjustment every year. And this year, our price adjustment is probably one of the larger ones because labor costs have gone up so much.”
In addition to complaints from customers in the restaurant, DoorDash, which offers a delivery from restaurants without directly contracting with them, lists prices from the fake website. This means that the ticket price in the restaurant is often significantly higher than the price paid by the customer on DoorDash. (Branca says she’s tried to reach DoorDash to change the prices, but has received no response.)
“There have been instances where the pick-up person will refuse to pay the actual price, so we prepare all this food and then no one pays for it,” Branca said. “So it’s costing us money. That has happened several times in the last few months.”
Branca doesn’t want to buy the website. She doesn’t want to pay for it, and she doesn’t want to run it.
“I was intentional when I decided that I don’t want to pay for a domain or a hosting service for the restaurant,” Branca said. “I would rather spend my time and effort maintaining very good social media platforms. Since we started, the most important thing is to know our customer and connect with our customer, and the best way to do that is through social media.”
Here’s the real menu, by the way, for all you non-internet-trolls out there.