The Master of Your Own Domain Name – What .xxx Porn Sites Mean For Us

Pornography just got a little more accessible; as if we needed it.

A few days ago, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – who oversee many things on the internet – approved the domain “.xxx” to be added to the web. It will join the ranks of .com, .net, .tv, and other URL suffixes. The ICM Registry was responsible for its inception, much to the anger of website owners, marketers, and basically anyone with a brand to protect. So what exactly does this new domain name mean for us?

It All Started When…

According to ZDNet, the first time the .xxx domain was proposed to ICANN was “by Canadian real estate developer Jason Hendeles in October 2000. Turning from real estate to technology in the late 1990s, Hendeles started ICM Registry and a company called ATECH, literally short for ‘A Technology Company.'” Wired says that proposal was then resubmitted in 2004. Finally in 2005, after plenty of furor, it was accepted. But the opposition continued.

After the second .XXX proposal was approved in 2005, the Family Research Council (FRC) launched a campaign arguing that the TLD [top-level domain] would allow pornographers to “expand their evil empires on the Internet.” The porn industry opposed the TLD as well, arguing that it would lead to censorship and promote legislation harmful to the industry.

ICANN’s board of directors ultimately rejected .XXX in 2006, concerned that the TLD might make ICANN responsible for enforcing laws and regulations over Internet porn. However, supporters of the domain brought it back for consideration in 2007 and again in 2010. The TLD got preliminary approval in June of 2010 with the final vote today [March 19, 2011].

Ever since December 6th, a few days ago, the sites have been available for general consumption, and the applications have been staggering. DomainNameWire claims that 55367 .xxx sites were registered within the first 24 hours, and that number already tripled by the next day. And this is on top of the earlier “pre-release period” that started at least as early as October.

The Ins and Outs of .xxx

SMH describes the move as “an attempt to entice pornography sites to move into their own corner of the internet so that they can be more easily filtered and regulated.” Indeed in an ideal world, it would be nice to have all porn sites end with .xxx, which would mean you could easily filter them. For example, instead of filtering specific sexual words that come up, just filter “.xxx” and voila! But that obviously won’t happen. Perhaps if .xxx began with .com it would have a chance, but I think it’s far too late.

People now just want to protect themselves, and their brand names. Or, for many, their real names. Richard Dawkins, prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist, has already had problems in this area. In May 2010, he won a case to have RichardDawkins.com – a site that a fan had created without his permission – redirect to his own site RichardDawkins.net. Now Dawkins will probably be spending the money to own RichardDawkins.xxx, and have that redirect to the .net site or have it disabled.

But that’s just one person. Just think of all the post-secondary institutions who must protect their names. While names like Harvard.xxx and Oxford.xxx have been registered already, still available are names like HarvardUni.xxx and OxfordUniversity.xxx. So anyone could turn those into the “Oxford University’s House of Smut” or the “Harvard Bitches’ School of Higher Learning.”

Pictured: Harvard Bitches' graduate

According to the New York Times, the ICM Registry had “a vision of a red-light district in cyberspace that was a clean, well-lighted place, free of spam, viruses and credit card thieves.”

“It is good for everybody,” said Stuart Lawley, the chairman and chief executive of ICM. “It is a win for the consumer of adult content. They will know that the dot-xxx sites will operate by certain standards.”

[…] Content would be clearly labeled as adult and the whole neighborhood would be easy to block. Anyone offended by pornography could simply stay out.

[…] Mr. Lawley said more than 100,000 domains had preregistered. He said he expected that when the dot-xxx domains opened for business, nine to 12 months from now, some 500,000 domains would register, or roughly 10 percent of the five million to six million adult online sites.

But what about the problems of owning a brand name, as mentioned above?

[Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition] said many of those were likely to be “defensive” registrations, from businesses that wanted to prevent their names from being hijacked. Mr. Lawley said businesses could ensure that their names were not misused in the dot-xxx world by paying a one-time fee, to be set from $50 to $250.

Indeed, the ICM Registration has already made millions of dollars on this. But if some companies have anything to do with it, that might soon be reduced.

The Lawsuits

From ZDNet.com:

The company behind major porn sites including YouPorn, PornHub, Brazzers, Xtube and Playboy.com have been joined by adult industry powerhouse Digital Playground to file an anti-monopoly lawsuit against ICANN over the dot-XXX TLD.

Luxembourg-based Manwin and Digital Playground are suing both ICANN and the company that created and manages dot-XXX, ICM Registry. ICANN is the non-profit that, among other things, oversees the management of the top-level domain name space.

Manwin and Digital Playground want an injunction to stop the .XXX TLD and require its re-opening with competition and “reasonable price constraints.”

Aside from that, if their allegations against ICANN are anywhere near true, I think this case could impact the entire domain name system and how it is run.

[…] It’s really quite serious. In the 44-page suit Manwin and Digital Playground allege,

ICM initially attempted to coerce ICANN to approve the .XXX TLD and to approve ICM’s anti-competitive .XXX registry services.

That coercion took the form of misleading predatory conduct and aggressive litigation tactics, described more fully below.

Eventually, ICANN agreed to approve the .XXX TLD, and to approve ICM as the XXX registry, not only in response to those improper and coercive tactics but also because ICM promised to pay ICANN what is expected to be millions of dollars in fees.

Interestingly, registrants of names in .XXX must waive legal rights and claims against ICM as a condition of registering.

ICM’s Stuart Lawley bragged to Bloomberg that ICM is set to make at least $200 million a year, and he predicts to snag between 3 and 5 million registrations.

In regard to its lawsuit, Manwin told the Wall Street Journal the dot-XXX domain creates “an unnecessary cost on everybody, without any benefit for the adult entertainment community.”

The author of this article, Violet Blue, is a pro-pornography activist had also talked about this domain when it was approved in March.

No one is looking at an .XXX domain and thinking, “That’s where I’ll cash in.” They’re thinking, “I better buy my business name, my daughter’s name, and my own name… just in case.”

My ZDNet colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols remarked Oh My God! Porn is Officially On The Internet! – and he was wisely pointing out the single most collective WTF most of us have with .XXX: it seems redundant.

He hit the turgid nail on the head while explaining that yes, Virginia, not only is there already lots of XXX online if you look for it – but remarkably, even those who you’d think would stand to gain from creating more adult real estate strongly opposed .XXX.

ICM nee .XXX still claim to have support from adult industry people – somewhere – yet every porn group on the planet spoke out against it.

ICM nee .XXX still claim to have the endorsement of family groups – somewhere – yet family and religious groups came out in droves to oppose .XXX.

On top of all this, .XXX was opposed by groups not nearly as fringey as religious conservatives and porn peeps: even the ACLU begged ICANN to see .XXX as a very bad idea from a human rights perspective.

[…] Lest you forget: I am a pro-porn female. I’m all for more porn. But: with great porn comes great responsibility.

Where We Stand Now

I personally think the idea that making a new pornography domain name is going to increase the amount of porn on the internet is ridiculous. It may organize it better, but it’s not going to increase it. If people want to make porn, they will. They haven’t needed a .xxx suffix before, and it hasn’t stopped anyone. I speculate that if I owned a not-so-famous pornography website (and I would guess that 99% of internet porn is on sites you have never heard of) then I probably wouldn’t feel the need to register my .xxx counterpart. But of course, I really don’t know how invested porn site creators are in their brands, however unpopular they may be in the grand scheme of things.

Regardless, this whole story makes me wonder: To what extent will there be a noticeable change in the first few months and years after this? I’m curious to know how many companies are grabbing the “sweetasses.xxx” and “filthywhores.xxx” URLs. I expect that there must be some – especially those who did not get the first “.com” names they wanted. Why, porn.com sold for 9.5 million dollars in 2007. I’m sure porn.xxx is already taken.

However, a great many of the recent purchases were by those who simply want to defend their names. If those defensive cases really represent the majority of consumers, then I’d say its pretty clear that what ICM is doing is wrong. Though I really can’t judge yet, since there are so many ways this could play out. But I can understand why people are furious.

As for me, well… if anyone’s clamoring to get their hands on skeptikai.xxx, feel free.

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