educational

Another Look At .XXX

Domenic R. Merenda
The much-debated .XXX top-level domain has found patronage within the adult-industry camp, as well as on Capitol Hill.

Supporters rally behind the idea that an adult-specific extension would provide access only to those who wished to visit. Detractors counter that this type of treatment would create an Internet "ghetto" incapable of supporting meaningful commerce.

One thing is certain, however, if the .XXX TLD is added to the Internet's root directory: the adult industry will clearly undergo significant changes.

In the 1980s, ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, created seven "generic" top-level domains, or gTLDs. These entries are common standards known today as .com, .net and .org, as well as the restricted registration TLDs .edu, .gov, .int and .mil.

In November 2000, ICANN announced seven new TLDs to be introduced beginning in 2001. These consisted of five un-sponsored - .biz, .info, .tv, .name and .pro - as well as three sponsored - .aero, .coop and .museum.

The sponsored TLDs differ from their un-sponsored counterparts in that they have a charter, which outlines the purpose and operating rocedures of the TLD, and a sponsored TLD community, consisting of a defined group of stakeholders most directly interested in the operation of the TLD.

Differentiated Space
"The .XXX TLD creates a new and clearly differentiated space," said Jason Hendeles, a vice president at ICM Registry, the company leading the charge for a .XXX top-level domain. "The inclusion of the best-business practices for registrants will meet the needs of the community that cannot reasonably be met in the existing TLDs at the second level.

"The .XXX TLD makes it more efficient for suppliers and willing users to communicate, thus giving end users the choice to access or avoid such material," he said.

The responsibility for protecting minors from accessing adult materials on the Internet cannot be borne solely by webmasters maintaining these sites, supporters agree.

The idea espoused by child and family advocates centers on the ability of search engines and computers to block any and all traffic originating from a .XXX domain. What prevents a minor from circumventing these so-called protections? Parental involvement, including proper education, enforced ground rules, and the responsible installation of specialized software is the appropriate solution. If our answer is to rely on the same parents who have historically done a less than adequate job protecting their kids from harmful materials, this idea is a non-starter right out of the gate.

The Federal Communications Commission has been throwing its weight around, announcing and enforcing penalties for "indecent" radio transmissions, and Attorney General John Ashcroft hasn't exactly been playing his desire to crack down on obscene web sites close to the vest.

'Red Light' Trouble?
Enacting a "red light" top-level domain may be inviting an immediate slew of legislation aimed squarely at forcing the industry into mandatory migration to the new .XXX extension. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., testified before the Child Online Protection Act Commission in 2000. Reading from a prepared statement, he advocated the concept of Internet "zoning," calling upon "arbiters of the Internet" to "simply abide by the same standard as the proprietor of an X-rated movie theater or the owner of a convenience store who sells sexually-explicit magazines."

Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich, gave a prepared statement before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet in 2001. In this reading, he questioned the actions of ICANN in denying the .kids and .XXX applications, stating, "We should strongly encourage the use of technology to protect our kids, and special top-level domain names may be just the ticket. This is what so many parents lay awake at night thinking about, and we need to respond."

One of the points proponents of the .XXX domain are trying to drive home is the idea of self-regulation before it becomes necessary for lawmakers to step in. Unfortunately, the comments of Lieberman and Upton do not bode well for this idea. Rather, it seems likely that a red light district on the Internet would be the precursor for mandatory registration of adult web sites.

Foreign Regulation
Questions about regulation also extend outside of the borders for which Lieberman and Upton are responsible. The concern is that through the creation of a .XXX extension, other countries will be given the green light to force adult media into the new TLD, further limiting freedom of expression in those areas.

This issue is also a double-edged sword, as further problems arise should U.S. legislation force industry business owners to pursue their craft on the .XXX top-level domain. Webmasters in countries with a more lax approach to enforcement in these areas will enjoy the heavy advantage of noncompliance.

The need for standardization on fair business practices and consumer interactions is an important step in fostering consumer trust and engendering good faith with regulators. Hendeles proposes to address these concerns by creating a liaison in ICM Registry, one that will go to bat for the community.

"Over the first two years of becoming accredited and operational, ICM Registry will actively work with industry leading companies and transaction providers globally to regularize and enhance online adult-oriented business processes, such as search-engine functionality, privacy, transaction processing, identity theft prevention measures and security," Hendeles said.

Some opponents foresee significant trademark issues, akin to the battle for rights to the Sex.com domain. ICM plans to implement a number of mechanisms to discourage the registration of infringing domain names. The first is the requirement of new registrants to submit to a clause in the domain registration agreement stating that the proposed domain, in name as well as deed, infringes on no legal rights of a third party. ICM Registry also proposes to implement the STOP procedure used by NeuLevel during the launch of the .biz TLD. The high price point of the .XXX TLD and initial multi-year terms may also discourage abusive registrations.

New Forum, Platform
Greg Dumas, a director of the Free Speech Coalition, lends his support to .XXX, adding that the TLD "provides a new forum and platform for the online adult industry to begin to self-organize and to develop its own credible and responsible business practices."

Dumas isn't the only industry luminary to speak out in support of the proposal. He has personally met with proponents including Python Communications, Hustler and Vivid.

The true advantage of the .XXX TLD is perhaps best summed up by Dumas, stating, ".XXX offers an opportunity for the online-adult industry to act responsibly."

Domenic Merenda is vice president of business development for Edge Productions, a producer, propagator, marketer and distributor of adult material.

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