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Lawley quits as .xxx sponsor chairman

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley has stepped down as chairman of IFFOR, the sponsoring organization for .xxx, after ongoing criticism over potential conflicts of interest.

He will be replaced by Clyde Beattie, a former chair of .ca manager CIRA, who was already on IFFOR’s governing board of directors.

IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, was set up by ICM to act as the “sponsoring organization” required by ICANN’s 2004 new gTLD process.

The organization is supposed to be independent, consisting of a policy-creation committee overseen by a three-person board of directors.

However, it has come in for frequent criticism from the porn industry, notably the Free Speech Coalition, over the perception that it is basically an ICM puppet.

While the Policy Council has five out of nine members drawn from the porn industry, the FSC has often accused Lawley of having a “veto” on IFFOR’s decisions, which he has denied.

“Even though the bylaws ensured separation, the optics weren’t ideal,” said Lawley.

However, while Beattie takes over his role, Lawley’s empty seat on the IFFOR board will be filled by ICM general counsel Sheri Falco.

ICM still has a vote, in other words, but not the chair.

The third board member is Sebastien Bachollet, CEO of BBS Consulting. Bachollet also sits on ICANN’s board of directors as a representative of At-Large community.

IFFOR hires McCarthy to handle .xxx outreach

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2011, Domain Registries

Kieren McCarthy, CEO of the .nxt new top-level domains conference, has reportedly joined the International Foundation For Online Responsibility to manage policy communications.

IFFOR is the sponsoring organization for ICM Registry’s new gTLD, responsible for setting the policies that will govern .xxx domain names.

ICM’s opponents in the Free Speech Coalition fear IFFOR, claiming it will be both toothless in the light of ICM’s “veto power” over policies (which ICM disputes) and dangerous to .xxx domain holders.

As well as outreach, McCarthy will be tasked with “developing the tools through which Internet community members and IFFOR Policy Council members can reach consensus positions”, according to Xbiz.

He has the right background. He’s the former general manager for public participation at ICANN, and lately one of its fiercest critics. More recently, he’s also done some consulting work for ICM.

Hopefully one of his first actions at IFFOR will be to add DI to the press release mailing list, so I don’t have to source Xbiz the next time the organization has news to report.

FSC steps up anti-.xxx campaign

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2011, Domain Registries

The Free Speech Coalition is trying to rally its supporters into a legal nastygram campaign against ICM Registry ahead of the launch of .xxx next month.

The California-based porn trade group wants webmasters to inform ICM that if it sells their trademarks as .xxx domains, they may sue.

It’s released a template letter (pdf) for members to use. It reads, in part:

ICM is now on notice that the registration of any domain name using the .XXX extension that is identical or confusingly similar to one of the trademarks or domains listed on Exhibit A will violate (COMPANY NAME)’s intellectual property rights and constitute an unfair business practice. ICM must take steps to prevent such activity before it can occur. Failure to take affirmative steps to prevent this conduct will establish ICM’s substantial liability.

The FSC believes that because .xxx is squarely aimed at porn webmasters, it smells like a shakedown a lot more than a more generic-sounding string would.

Its tactics are interesting – encouraging others to issue legal threats instead of doing it itself.

As I’ve previously noted, top-level domain registries based in the US have a pretty good legal defense against cybersquatting suits under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Whether those defenses extend to claims of trademark infringement is a different matter. As far as I know, a sponsored gTLD manager has never been sued on these grounds.

The .xxx gTLD is of course one of the most cybersquatting-unfriendly namespaces ever, in terms of the number and strength of its trademark protection mechanisms.

Porn affiliate network to shun .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, Domain Registries

The Free Speech Coalition has announced support for its .xxx boycott from what looks to be a significant player in the porn affiliate network market.

Gamma Entertainment, which runs programs such as LiveBucks.com, said it plans to defensively register some of its brands in .xxx.

But for every dollar the company spends with ICM Registry, it also plans to make a matching donation to the top-level domain’s opponents, such as the FSC.

Xbiz quotes Gamma president Karl Bernard: “Gamma is committed to using our resources to lead by example – by pledging our support in the efforts to combat ICM’s .xxx.”

The company will continue to focus development on its .com web sites, according to the article.

The FSC announced its boycott earlier this week, to signal its objection to ICANN’s approval of the TLD.

Porn group launches .xxx boycott

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2011, Domain Registries

The Free Speech Coalition has made good on its promise to start a boycott of .xxx domain names.

The California-based porn industry association has just launched a “Just Say NO” campaign, in an attempt to persuade pornographers that .xxx domains are bad for business.

Do the math – it doesn’t add up. Even if ICM’s claims of new consumers who “trust” .XXX ring true, for a company like Kink.com, which has approximately 10,000 domain names, it would have to bring in three-quarters of a million dollars in new revenues annually JUST TO BREAK EVEN!

As well as the retail price of the domains, which currently estimated to be north of $70 per year, the FSC has laid out a bunch of other reasons why it believes .xxx is a bad investment.

These include the fact that some countries (I’m aware of Saudi Arabia and India) have said they intend to block .xxx domains, and that this may make some high-traffic web sites wary of linking to them.

It’s also critical of how .xxx sites will have to comply with policies created by the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which ICM is setting up to “sponsor” .xxx.

But perhaps the most telling quote in the FSC’s press release comes from its executive director, Diane Duke. She said:

FSC acknowledges and respects that, when push comes to shove, businesses need to do what they think is best for their company. That is why adult companies need to know the implications of purchasing .XXX domain names and why buying .XXX could be the worst investment they’ll ever make.

While FSC makes good points, I agree with Mike Berkens of TheDomains. I just can’t see a boycott working, and the end result may just be to just make FSC look naïve.

If you’re a pornographer, and you think there’s even an outside chance of .xxx taking off, would you risk declining to defensively register your brands on a matter of principle?

The cost of enforcing trademarks — if you have one — via the UDRP post-sunrise would be larger than simply registering them up-front, and there would be no guarantee of success.

It’s a big risk, one that I can’t see many potential registrants taking.

Some in the porn business even believe that some webmasters publicly decrying .xxx are doing so primarily to reduce competition for the premium real estate. Writing in Xbiz, Stephen Yagielowicz said:

some of your “friends” that are telling you to avoid the new adult domain extension, are speculators hoping to lessen the competition for premium .XXX names; while others are mere hucksters, seeking to profit by offering “an alternative TLD” — such as .adult, .porn, .sex or “dot-whatever-does-not-involve-Stuart-Lawley”