opinion

A Closer Look At .XXX

Stephen Yagielowicz
I've read several message board threads lately, here at XBiz, and elsewhere, that cited an AVN Online report on Utah's efforts to curb the access of online adult entertainment within the state. These threads, and the original article, tend to paint the issue of a .xxx top level domain (TLD) and government imposed censorship with the same brush. This is not only a wrongheaded interpretation of the facts, but one that does a disservice to the industry.

The lead on the article by Mark Kernes states that "Supporters may have failed to secure official approval for a .xxx top-level domain, but the state of Utah is trying to create one of its own through site rating and registry." This implies that Utah is trying to create a .xxx TLD of its own, which is factually incorrect, and misinformation at best.

While no one will argue that Utah is not against porn, and indeed, anti-porn activists within the state may be among the many supporters of an "adults only" TLD, framing a discussion within the industry on the pros and cons of a virtual red light district within cyberspace in the context of "it can't be a good idea because our enemies support it" obscures the real issues at hand. Issues that I will shed some light on here today.

But first, let's deal with Utah, and what's really going on there. The big picture is that adult entertainment is unwelcome in Utah, and the state is indeed searching for ways to block access to adult websites from within the state, and seeking to impose criminal penalties on site owners who are not in compliance with the law.

While I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice, my reading of the various proposals being floated around the Utah state house would seem to indicate that the use of a valid ICRA tag – which all adult websites should have had in place for years now – would satisfy the "self rating" terms of the legislation being sought by Utah, and protect adult site owners from prosecution there under these proposed anti-porn ordinances. The ICRA tag allows easy blocking of sites at the browser level and above, and does so without any consideration of the website's TLD. Add one to your website, and forget about Utah. It's a nice place to visit, but you don't want to do business there.

The Real Issues With .XXX
Among the most divisive issues in our industry today is whether or not an "adults only" TLD (.xxx, for example) is a good or a bad idea, with your stance on the subject likely being formed by the amount of time you've spent thinking about it, your business plan, and the bottom line.

Thinking carefully about the pros and cons of the issue takes time and understanding, while the impact that your business plan has on the equation is simple: If you're one of the 'quick buck' schemers trying to make a million or two regardless of the way you do it, then you're likely opposed to anything that could complicate matters, or limit immediate revenues. If on the other hand, you're one of the responsible business people in this industry for the long run, you should be in favor of any measure which would help secure our long term future.

Limiting adult websites to a certain TLD isn't the prerequisite to elimination of the industry as some short-sighted fear mongers would suggest. The powers that be need only turn to Google or their own custom-coded web spiders to locate nearly all adult properties on the Internet, making the "we're an easy target when we're all in one place" argument irrelevant. If you're worried about being an easy target, go work on your 2257 compliance instead of being afraid of .xxx.

An "adults only" TLD is best thought of as a self-regulatory tool that responsible webmasters should use to keep their wares away from those who do not wish to be exposed to them. Along with use of a valid ICRA tag and self-registration of URLs with the leading filtering companies, a separate TLD would help keep our sites away from minors and others who find the material objectionable, removing fuel from the fires of indignation that mothers across America and beyond feel when their children are exposed to potentially harmful materials. This indignation results in letters to Congress and demands for action. Action that could be thwarted by an industry that demonstrates self-restraint and responsible marketing.

The biggest problem with an "adults only" TLD is the assignation of domain names, and how the process is carried out: Meaning, if a 'forced migration' was legislated, valuable properties may have to be forfeited – or perhaps simply redirected, or re-purposed. Handled incorrectly, the virtual "land grab" that would result from simply opening the doors to registration and dictating that all adult sites should be on a certain TLD by a certain date would guarantee egregious cases of cyber squatting, virtual extortion and resulting litigation.

Simply opening the registration process on a first come, first served basis, would cause countless brands to switch hands overnight – quickly destroying years of marketing and back-linking, eliminating established traffic chains and business relationships, cause consumer confusion that would result in a cascade of business-ending chargebacks, and a host of other unwanted calamities. This is the "bottom line" objection that many site owners have to an "adults only" TLD – but the objection is not necessarily to the concept of .xxx, but to the method of its implementation.

These objections could be easily mitigated by having a provision for the initial migration of 'dot coms' to their respective 'dot xxxs' before allowing general registration. This would allow the larger, more established brands to move their properties in a way that sustains their operation, and prevents cyber squatters with registration bots from grabbing domains that they are un-entitled to. While owners of sites on other TLDs that were forced to migrate might find their domain name already taken by the owner of the 'dot com' version, this is no more than the same inconvenience that they faced when initially registering their domain and finding the 'dot com' already spoken for.

Allowing a 'grace period' (in the event of a forced migration) wherein existing URLs could be used as pointers to the new URLs would allow for the updating of bookmarks and back links, making a transition nearly seamless. After a certain date, all the old sites could be 'flushed' from the active Internet (a move which would help reduce the glut of free and illegal porn), and a stronger industry could carry on.

In the final analysis, the choice of whether or not the online adult industry is forced into a virtual red light district is not in our hands, so our energies our wasted on any "is it good or bad for us?" argument – energies that would be much better spent on shaping the ways in which a possible migration should be handled. If this is something that must be done to ensure the future of the online adult industry, I'll be first in line to sign up and transfer my domains. How about you?

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