Just how much money does Google make from so-called "domain parkers" - those clever characters who populate countless web pages with nothing but advertising?
Judging from a recent 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 mega-PC-manufacturer Dell Computer. 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 they're serving ads from more than 1,000 domains that infringe on Dell trademarks. According to court papers, these urls include addresses like "delcomputing.com" and "deldimension.com."
"Typosquatting is a form of cyberquatting - which essentially involves registering variations on a trademark owned by an established company and brand so that you can drive traffic to your own site," says Jeffrey Glassman, a lawyer with the California firm Moldo, Davidson, Fraioli, Seror & Sestanovich, told The Reg.
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 explains. "It's still a legal gray zone."
Then, late last month, a federal judge issued a "freeze order" that put the freeze on revenue collected by these Dell's adversaries - revenue that arrives by way of Google.
You see, these Dell-like domains belong to Google's AdSense network. Google populates these sites with ads, and every time someone clicks on one, Google gets a cut.
The freeze order orders Google to 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, while the second million goes on 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 did half-answer a few of our questions about domain parking in general. Google insists 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.