Just how much money does Google make from so-called "domain parkers" - those clever characters who populate countless web domains with nothing but advertising?
Judging from a legal attack on a small army of these clever characters, Eric Schmidt and his minions make far more than they'd like the world to know.
Earlier this week, the IDG News Service leaked word of a recent Florida court order laid down in response to a "typosquatting" lawsuit from Dell, the mega-PC-manufacturer.
Dell is suing sixteen companies you've never heard of, but the court order also involves a certain web giant based in Mountain View, California.
In October, Dell brought suit against sixteen domain registrars, claiming that they're serving ads from 1,100 domains that infringe its trademarks. According to court papers, these urls include addresses like "delcomputing.com" and "deldimension.com".
This sort of typosquatting may or may not be illegal, says tech law blogger Eric Goldman. "We don't really have a whole lot of precedent on this, so it's hard to draw any legal inferences about it," he says. "It's still a legal gray zone."
Then, late last month, a federal judge issued a "freeze order" that put the freeze on the revenue collected by Dell's domain-parking adversaries - revenue that arrives by way of Google.
You see, these Dell-esque domains are part of Google's AdSense network. Google supplies the ads for these sites, and every time someone clicks on one, Google gets a cut.
The freeze order makes Google shuttle a portion of the defendants' revenue into an account for safe keeping. Each month, court papers say, the first million goes into the account, and the second million goes to the defendants. Then, if revenues top $2m, half of what's left over goes into the account, and the defendants get the other half.
That's sixteen defendants, and they're potentially raking in more than $2m a month.
When we contacted Google, a spokesman declined to talk about this case specifically, but he half-answered some of our questions about domain parking in general. Google says that if you complain about typosquatting on its AdSense network, it will take action.
"Regarding typo-squatting, we take trademark violations very seriously," the spokesman said, via email. "Our trademark policy specifically prohibits the use of trademarked terms.
When we find or are made aware of trademark violations we take immediate action including removing ads from our system and sites from the AdSense network."
Has Dell chosen legal action over a simple complaint to Google? It's hard to tell. Dell wouldn't talk to us at all. Like Google, it doesn't normally comment on pending litigation.
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