Debate Boils Over .XXX

Debate Boils Over .XXX
Fred Lane
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – In the ongoing debate between those in favor of the .XXX sponsored top-level domain and those opposed to it – a group of about 50 gathered to listen to six panelists debate the merits of the sTLD that was approved by ICANN on June 1.

In two split panels, Jason Hendeles and Stuart Lawley from ICM Registry, the private company sponsoring the .XXX domain, and Monte Cahn, from Moniker.com, one of the Internet registrars that will help implement the new domain, took one side. Connor Young, editor-in-chief of YNOT News, Tom Hymes, from the Free Speech Coalition, and Greg Piccionelli, a partner in the firm Piccionelli & Sarno, took the opposition.

Hendeles opened the discussion by presenting his company's goals for the .XXX domain and the mechanisms for implementing it. He told the audience that the .XXX domain will be administered by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), a non profit organization designed to formulate policies for the new sTLD.

According to Hendeles, the seven-member interim governing board of the organization will represent not only the concerns of the adult industry, but also those of anti-child pornography activists and free speech proponents.

Hymes and Young countered that this simply does not provide enough control for the adult industry over decisions that could have a potentially dramatic impact on their business models.

"IFFOR," Hendeles said, "is offering a very powerful voice to address the thorny issues facing the industry right now, before things get worse."

Hendeles added that no one would be forced to participate in registering .XXX domains for their companies, but that in doing so, those website owners would benefit from protections provided by IFFOR, including the credibility needed “in the court of public opinion.”

Hymes disagreed. "There are better solutions that are available right now," he said, "that are free of charge, that won't cost you anything. I understand that [ICM is] a business, and there's nothing wrong with that. But we can't allow a system by which they make a lot of money at the expense of our businesses."

Addressing Hendeles’ assertion that .XXX would help control children’s access to adult content, Young highlighted what he claims is a more effective tool for accomplishing the same goal, called the Internet Content Rating Association, which enables adult webmasters to use their existing domain names but self-label their sites to help parents filter the sites for their children.

“.XXX is not a magic bullet for protecting children online,” Young said. “Is this really in our best interest?”

When asked whether the panelists thought the .XXX domain will help promote self-regulation of the adult industry – ICM argued that it does, while opponents claimed that the adult industry is not well-represented on the IFFOR board and instead should continue to rely on established industry organization like the Free Speech Coalition and the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection.

Recalling a recent report, issued by the ASACP, Hymes reiterated that nearly all adults have been found to not feature child pornography, “so why then would you hand over business and your future to an ICM board that you will have no minority voice in?”

Attorney Greg Piccionelli, who told the audience that he had clients on both sides of this particular issue, agreed that there are some legitimate concerns with the .XXX domain.

"There is a very real possibility that [with the .XXX domain], the adult industry will be sequestered, it will be labeled, it will be filtered out,” Piccionelli said.

But Monte Cahn, who said that he was not altogether clear there is any mechanism to derail the implementation of the proposed .XXX domain, said that with ICANN’s approval, .XXX is here to stay.

"In my experience, I've never encountered an extension that was approved by ICANN and not implemented, so in my mind, the extension is coming and there's nothing anyone in this room or outside of this room is going to do to stop it," Cahn said.

Encouraging webmasters to protect their brands, Cahn said that in many ways, they have three choices at this point: to register and use the new domain names; to register them defensively and not use them; or to not register at all and run the risk that someone else will do so.

Under the current proposal, registration for .XXX TLD swill cost adult webmasters $75-80 per name. With some adult webmasters owning hundreds of names, the potential costs are steep.

Both Hendeles and Cahn said that the price was less than other sponsored domain names like .travel (which may cost $100-125), and that registering a .XXX domain will bring additional value to adult webmasters.

During occasionally hostile questioning from the audience, however, Hendeles and Lawley conceded that some mechanism was under consideration (at an as-yet-to-be-determined price) to allow adult webmasters to "park" or "reserve" .XXX names in which they've established rights in other domains.

"I don't care if you're a Vivid, if you're an AVN, a Hustler, or a little cam girl, your decisions will affect you for years down the line,” Hymes said. “Take control of your websites, trademark your brands, get control of your financial interests so that nobody else can dictate to you and impose upon you policies."