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YouPorn owner acquires fellow .xxx plaintiff

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Manwin, the porn company currently suing ICANN and ICM Registry over the .xxx launch, has acquired co-plaintiff Digital Playground.

“To me this deal is no different than the acquisition of Pixar by Disney,” Digital Playground CEO Ali Joone said, according to Xbiz.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

While Digital Playground was named as a plaintiff on the .xxx lawsuit, Manwin was clearly the lead. Manwin has also launched a solo Independent Review Process arbitration case against ICANN.

The company is one of the biggest porn producers on the internet, owning YouPorn as well as managing Playboy’s web presence under license.

Manwin claims that ICM’s launch amounted to “extortion”, and that it gave away its lack of respect for the porn industry by selling premium names to domainers including Frank Schilling and Mike Berkens.

ICM’s response to the lawsuit is due later this week.

YouPorn sues ICANN and ICM over .xxx

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2011, Domain Registries

One of the biggest porn companies in the world has filed an antitrust lawsuit against ICANN and ICM Registry over the introduction of the .xxx top-level domain.

Luxembourg-based Manwin Licensing and California-based Digital Playground allege “monopolistic conduct, price gouging, and anti-competitive and unfair practices”.

Manwin runs YouPorn, Brazzers and, under license, several Playboy-branded web sites, while Digital Playground is among the largest porn production companies in the world.

Together they are demanding an injunction on .xxx altogether, for ICANN to be forced to impose price constraints on ICM, and to open up the .xxx contract for competitive rebidding.

The complaint, apparently filed in California today, essentially alleges that everything ICM has done to date, from its application with ICANN to its sunrise period policies, is wrong and bad.

It claims ICM’s sunrise period amounted to extortion and that ICANN willfully created a monopoly by agreeing to a registry contract with presumptive renewal but no price caps.

ICM, the complaint says, reacted to the approval of .xxx earlier this year “with the anti-competitive behavior expected of a monopolist”.

It has, for example, improperly exploited the newly created market for .XXX defensive registrations by making such registrations unreasonably expensive and difficult, and by placing onerous burdens on parties seeking to protect their intellectual property rights.

Manwin claims that the recently ended sunrise period, which saw over 80,000 defensive registrations, was priced too high given that ICM handed out free domain blocks to thousands of celebrities.

It also claims that ICM should have enabled companies to defensively block typos of their trademarks, and that porn companies without trademarks should have been able to block their brands.

It takes ICANN to task for not operating a competitive bidding process for .xxx, and claims ICM used “misleading predatory conduct and aggressive litigation tactics” to push through its approval.

I’m not a lawyer, but often antitrust cases swing on the way the court decides to define the relevant “market”.

Manwin claims .xxx is the market, whereas it could be argued that because porn sites are free to use .com or almost any other TLD, that the domain industry as a whole is the market.

The complaint states:

The market for blocking services or defensive registrations in the .XXX TLD is a distinct and separate market in part because there is no reasonable substitute for such registrations. For example, blocking or preventing others’ use of names in a non-.XXX TLD is not such a substitute. Blocking use of a name in a non-.XXX TLD does not prevent use of the name in the .XXX TLD.

ICM has a complete monopoly in the market for the sale of .XXX TLD blocking or defensive registration services through registrars.

I’m not sure if my legal thinking holds water, but this sounds rather like arguing that BMW has a monopoly on making BMWs or Coca-Cola has a monopoly on Cherry Coke.

But Manwin says that .xxx is the only porn gTLD and ICANN has basically ruled out the creation of any future porn-centric TLDs with clauses in ICM’s registry contract.

It also notes that .sex and .porn would be unlikely to be approved in the next round of new gTLDs due to the restrictions on controversial strings imposed by the Governmental Advisory Committee.

ICM president Stuart Lawley said in a statement:

The claims are baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously. They also show an apparent lack of understanding of the ICANN process and the rigorous battle we went through with ICANN over eight years in full public scrutiny to gain approval.

The .xxx story really is the gift that keeps on giving.