'.xxx' meets stiff resistance from adult industry

International
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)'s latest public comment period for the Revised Proposed Registry Agreement and other related documentation for the '.xxx' sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) (the sixth so far) closed on September 23 2010. It demonstrated that this TLD remains as controversial as ever despite having been approved by ICANN on June 25 2010. 
 
Although the aim of this most recent public comment period was to invite feedback on the substance of the Registry Agreement and other documents relating to the running of the registry, a large number of the comments submitted were further expressions of opposition to the establishment of the TLD. Even though religious groups and anti-porn crusaders were less visible this time round, representatives of adult entertainment industry continued to show that they were not taking the '.xxx' TLD lying down.
 
Leading the charge on their behalf was the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) - a non-profit trade association for the adult entertainment industry. This group views the push for the TLD as little more than either a money-making scheme or a possible attempt at censorship. A large number of its members and supporters sent emails to ICANN opposing the establishment of the TLD with such emotive titles as "DO NOT grant '.xxx' app. to do so would be a crime allowed by ICANN" and "'.xxx' is extortion". The company behind the proposed '.xxx' TLD, ICM Registry, countered by adding a form letter to its website for supporters to send to ICANN requesting that the Registry Agreement be approved.
 
Members of the adult entertainment industry have even produced a rather tongue-in-cheek film opposing the TLD, which asks "who will rescue the world's honest smut-peddlers" and features, among others, the well-known pornography publisher and free speech campaigner Larry Flynt voicing his strong disapproval of the TLD. ICM Registry's president, Stuart Lawley, is portrayed as nothing more than a slick businessman whose pronouncements about online child safety are but a mere smokescreen for his main motivation: profits.
 
ICM portrays itself on its website as "promoting online responsibility" by creating a TLD that will make online sexual content more easily identifiable for those who wish to avoid it. For those in the adult entertainment industry, the ease with which the TLD may be blocked by filters is one of the most worrying factors, prompting some to speculate that the TLD would give governments the ability to 'shut down porn' on the internet, should they so wish. They also contend that, rather than protecting children from online adult content, the TLD will actually make it easier for them to identify and access it.
 
The '.xxx' domain names sold by ICM will be regulated by content policies set by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility, a group created by ICM itself to act as its sponsoring organisation. The FSC and other critics from the adult entertainment industry complain of a lack of transparency in relation to this agency and the fact that, in signing up for a '.xxx' domain name, they will be obliged to agree to rules and guidelines, not yet specified, created by board members who have not yet been appointed. In relation to this, the FSC requested a number of details regarding ICM from ICANN, including a list of its board and policy council members and its Proof of Sponsorship Community Support, as submitted to ICANN. ICANN ultimately declined to provide this information on the basis that it was confidential and that ICM had not responded to its request to lift the confidentiality restrictions.
 
ICM states that it already has around 180,000 pre-registrations and holds this figure up as proof that there is a demand for the TLD. However, the thrust of many of the recent comments submitted to ICANN is that many in the online adult entertainment industry have only grudgingly reserved '.xxx' domain names in order to protect their existing IP rights, and that the volume of registrations is not indicative of support from the industry.
 
David Taylor, Hogan Lovells, Paris 

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