Campaign domain squatters look to 2020

@CNNMoneyTech June 8, 2012: 2:57 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- If Joe Biden wants to run for president in 2020, he may have to cut Harris Swindell a check. Swindell, a computer programmer, registered Biden2020.com and Edwards2020.com after he saw a story about the sale of the domain WhiteHouse.com. At $12 a pop, Swindell's holding on to them until 2020.

"If Joe Biden were to approach me about purchasing Biden2020.com...I certainly would listen to any kind of proposal he would make and I would be fair about it. If it was a couple thousand dollars, I would be ecstatic," Swindell told CNNMoney.

Fetching thousands for a once-inexpensive domain name isn't outside the realm of possibility. Shardule Shah, a Ph.D. student at Emory University, collected four figures for HuntsmanForPresident.com in 2011. He'd purchased the site three years earlier.

Shah now has 11 political campaign domains registered with an eye toward the 2016 elections, including BobbyJindal2016.com and DevalForPresident.com, a nod to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Shah doesn't consider himself a domain squatter -- just an avid news-watcher trying to become "a player in the [political] process."

Both Shah and Swindell purchased these domains in the hope of selling them. Others who do the same thing don't always think of it as a business proposition.

For example, Joshua Linsk, who runs an online book publisher, registered HarryReid2020.com, Pelosi2020.com and every variation on Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Chris Christie that he could lock up, but he has no intention of selling any of them. Buying them was a form of activism, he says.

A Democrat, Linsk says he'd hand the Reid and Pelosi domains over to the candidates if they wanted them, free of charge. If any Republicans wanted theirs -- and he's got a lot, including SantorumPaul.com, SantorumPalin.com, CainRomney.com, and CainBachmann.com, to name a few -- Linsk says he'd "laugh in their faces."

"You can buy domain names for $7 or $8. You would think that if these were serious candidates they would have secured domain names with every possible vice-presidential campaign," he says.

There are laws against "cybersquatting" -- the practice of buying and using a domain to infringe on someone else's trademark or other rights -- but intellectual property attorney Richard Roth says this kind of politically or commercially motivated activity is not illegal.

"It's not illegal unless you're doing it in bad faith," Roth says. "If I take a Joe Biden website and I intentionally go on and [say things] anti-Biden, and I do it to cause Joe Biden harm, then it could be deemed illegal." To top of page

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