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As porn’s pre-eminent domain, .xxx to mark spot

Industry outsiders fear ‘shakedown’

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beginning this week, the Internet's "red-light district" will be open for business as the rush for ".xxx" domain registrations starts in earnest, but whether the new tag to alert — and attract — Web surfers to porn sites will meet expectations is a matter of sharp debate.

Some adult-entertainment companies are balking at the entire scheme, saying that ICM Registry LLC, which is overseeing .xxx registrations worldwide, does not have permission to sell the .xxx version of trademarked names and brands.

In addition, the Florida-based company is raising eyebrows — and charges of "shakedown" — by trying to get non-porn companies to pay to prevent their brands from being registered as .xxx sites. After all, what maker of baby food or children's movies, for example, would want to have sites such as gerber.xxx or disney.xxx floating around the Internet?

According to ICM, a preregistration period found nearly 900,000 "expressions of interest" for .xxx domain names, which officially debuts Wednesday.

The .xxx domain will offer many benefits for adult-entertainment companies and their customers — .xxx will become like "a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval for adult sites," said ICM Chairman and President Stuart Lawley.

While ICM is expecting to garner millions of dollars from adult businesses seeking .xxx domains, and non-adult businesses seeking to block their names from .xxx domains, the new approach is raising a slew of complaints.

The Free Speech Coalition, a trade group for the adult industry, is urging its members to write to ICM and warn the registry about the risk of litigation over trademark infringement, said Diane Duke, executive director.

Some adult-entertainment companies were having sticker shock this summer, when the registration fee was estimated to be $60 a domain.

"Why would I want to put $60 in ICM's pocket? To protect my brand? That's extortion," an angry adult-entertainment owner wrote in July to Mr. Lawley on xbiz.net, the Adult Industry Social Network.

"If I'd buy every .xxx domain for every .com I have, that would be $12,000 per year. For nothing," said another outraged erotic-site owner.

Actual registration fees are even higher, according to ICM's officially designated .xxx registrars, such as GoDaddy.com and 101domain.com. Application fees will run between $80 and $110, and each .xxx domain will cost about $100 a year. In contrast, .com domains run about $10.

The non-porn business world also is affected. Computer-technology mavens are warning anyone with a trademark or brand that, unless they want to see their names tagged with a .xxx domain, they should register with ICM. The going rate for these "opt-out" registrations is between $200 and $300.

Anti-pornography groups such as Morality in Media are warning that .xxx will only multiply online obscenity.

"The establishment of a .xxx domain will do nothing but increase the spread of Internet porn," said Patrick Trueman, a former federal prosecutor and president of Morality in Media, which is calling for a federal investigation into whether .xxx violates laws prohibiting distribution of obscenity over the Internet.

Moreover, Mr. Trueman asked, who is this ICM "to be threatening all of us that if you don't register your blog or your company, someone else can take your name on our system?"

"This is a shakedown," he said.

Several calls to such major corporate entities as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys 'R' Us to ask about whether they planned to register their names with ICM elicited no response.

ICM spokeswoman Loren Pomerantz countered that "nothing ICM is doing is illegal. ... Registrants of .xxx are obligated to use the domain names for legal purposes only."

"We are very sensitive to the brands and personalities that do not want to register their names and want to ensure that nobody else does," Ms. Pomerantz said.

ICM "has thorough domain approval and aggressive anti-squatter/take-down systems," she said, and the structured registration process is intended "to make it as simple and inexpensive as possible for brand holders and personalities to protect themselves."

The .xxx domain was approved in March by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Mr. Lawley acknowledges that ICM is a for-profit entity, but notes that some registration revenues will go to a "seven-figure legal defense fund," and underwrite an independent, nonprofit policy group called International Foundation for Online Responsibility.

Under the ICM schedule, which begins Wednesday, qualified adult-entertainment companies - those who own trademarks or have registered domain names with a .com or other extension - will have until Oct. 28 to claim those domain names or others. During that same period, non-adult-restricted businesses can register their brand and block it from a .xxx domain for 10 years.

On Nov. 8, ICM will hold an 18-day "land rush" period, in which additional adult-entertainment owners can apply for .xxx domains. On Dec. 7, ICM Registry opens the domain to anyone who wants an adult site.

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