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Dot-xxx Rides Again
By: Kathee Brewer (Courtesy of AVN.com)
Posted: 1/6/2007

Marina del Rey, Calif. – Eight months after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declined to approve a proposed contract with registrar-hopeful ICM Registry, controversial sponsored Top-Level Domain dot-xxx is back.

Late Friday, ICANN posted a revised contract on its website, and this time, ICM Chairman and President Stuart Lawley thinks the deal will go through—possibly allowing open registration of domains as early as this summer.

“The application was never rejected,” Lawley told AVNOnline.com on Friday. “ICANN was just concerned about some of the policies [that were alluded to but never spelled out in the previous contract]. They’re there in black and white now.”

Modifications to the document were made “in order to address public policy issues raised by [ICANN’s Governmental Affairs Committee],” according to an ICANN statement released about 9:30 p.m. PT on Friday. Consequently, the agreement contains a new section providing specific details about policy making and community related obligations to which ICM previously only made verbal commitments. The items include prohibition of child pornography, consumer fraud, deceptive marketing practices, and spam by dot-xxx domain owners and clear content labeling on all dot-xxx domains and sites automatically redirected to them.

Under the agreement, ICM will be required to engage independent third parties to proactively monitor registrant compliance with child-pornography and site-labeling requirements, develop industry best practices to protect children online and empower parents and others to avoid content they do not wish to see, and create and support the International Foundation for Online Responsibility, a global, independent, charitable organization ICM has said it would create.

According to the contract, IFFOR must provide a credible forum where all stakeholders are able to discuss and actively respond to concerns about online adult entertainment; allow the adult industry and others to participate in the development, implementation, and enforcement of best practices; reserve geographically, culturally, and religiously sensitive names; provide financial support for child safety organizations, and sponsor the development of technology to enhance the ability of Internet users to control their online experiences.

In addition, the new agreement adds some new considerations. Of particular note is that IFFOR, not the adult industry at large, is now the sponsoring community. Under the contract, ICM is required to provide to ICANN advance notice of any proposed change in IFFOR, and ICANN may disapprove any change. ICM also must provide to ICANN a copy of the contract between it and IFFOR and address any of ICANN’s concerns about the contract prior to launch of the sTLD.

Additional new contract sections prohibit the launch of dot-xxx until agreements with the required third-party monitors are in place, give ICANN the right to disapprove of ICM’s choice of monitors, and require ICM to designate a compliance manager and an independent ombudsman to address concerns and complaints.

Lawley said the new contract merely solidifies the policies ICM has proposed all along.

“Putting the policies into the contract allows the people who’ve been sitting on the sidelines and throwing stones to say ‘There’s nothing new here. It’s what we’re already trying to do,’” he told AVNOnline.com. “We’ve not added any new issues or policies in.”

What has not changed about the contract is the registration fee for dot-xxx domains: It will remain at $60 annually, with $10 of each registration going to IFFOR.

Lawley indicated he expects IFFOR to become something the adult industry has had trouble supporting thus far: a well-funded, politically active voice for the adult entertainment community. He said he hopes to attract mainstream companies like Microsoft and AOL to IFFOR’s ranks, as well as mainstream free speech advocates, and those entities, together with a lobbyist ICM has retained since February 2004, ideally will be able to influence legislation and policy making. As an example of issues in which IFFOR might become involved, Lawley cited the Cyber Safety for Kids Act proposed by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Mark Prior (D-Ark.) in March 2006. Among other things, the bill sought to require all adult entertainment on the Web to be located within an sTLD specifically set aside for adult content.

Lawley pledged ICM would not become a party to any such online “ghetto-ization” of adult content.

“You can’t force legitimate speech into specific areas,” he said. “This is America, and thank God you have the First Amendment.

“We believe we will gain more registrations on a voluntary basis,” Lawley continued. “We’ve made it crystal clear from the beginning that we would fight any effort to make it mandatory.”

People inside the adult industry see things differently, however.

“The unmitigated gall of Jason [Hendeles, ICM’s founder] and his associates knows no limits whatsoever,” said First Amendment attorney J.D. Obenberger. “They will not rest until they’ve locked all adult webmasters away in a little ghetto owned by them. They have staked out this ground in anticipation of a law that will mandate that all adult websites locate only in dot-xxx.

“Any such conspiracy to force adult websites into a separate domain ultimately is doomed to failure in ICANN, the congress, or the courts,” he added.

Outspoken dot-xxx opponent Brandon Shalton said dot-xxx is far from “a done deal.”

“Forget the free-speech issue; the conspiracy theories about government control,” he told AVNOnline.com. “The very basic rules of ICANN sTLDs will defeat this. So long as everyone stays on message and doesn’t get hotheaded about the emotional views, then it will come down to business decisions. [The adult industry needs] to take the simple and unemotional tack: that the community the sTLD is supposed to represent doesn’t want it.”

Regardless of criticism within and outside the adult entertainment industry, Lawley said pre-reservation of dot-xxx domains has continued steadily since the process was opened last year.

“We have more than we expected and more than double the amount in the business plan submitted to ICANN,” he said. “The process is still open, and it’s still free of charge. People have been trickling in all along.

“We’re good to go [with open registration],” he continued, adding that he thinks 500,000 dot-xxx domain registrations is a reasonable number to predict based on the number currently pre-reserved. “We’ve had a long time to get ready.”

Dot-xxx originally was proposed by ICM Registry in 2000, after ICANN issued a request for proposals seeking potential new sTLDs. Dot-xxx wasn’t selected at that time because of inherent controversy, but it resurfaced in March 2004, following another ICANN RFP. More than a year later, in June 2005, ICANN accepted ICM’s proposal and opened the public comment period required under ICANN’s charter. Initially supported by some inside the adult industry, dot-xxx later fell into disfavor with the industry, various international governing bodies, ICANN’s GAC, and right-wing religious factions in the U.S. On May 10, 2006, ICANN voted not to approve the ICM agreement as proposed, but declined to the reject the idea entirely.

According to Lawley, ICANN representatives and ICM have been renegotiating the agreement since then to address all parties’ concerns.

ICM is the only entity ever to seek management of the dot-xxx sTLD, Lawley said.

The public comment period for dot-xxx runs through Feb. 5.

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