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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”

.xxx domains could arrive by June

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors today approved the .xxx top-level domain, over the objections of governments and pornographers.

The vote was 9 to 3 in favor, with three directors recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest and the CEO abstaining (pretty typical for votes on .xxx over the years, I think it’s a liability thing).

Assuming the US government, which controls the DNS, doesn’t try the nuclear option of overruling ICANN, .xxx could make it into the root about 10 days from now.

Now expect ICM Registry to ramp up the marketing quite quickly – it’s aiming to launch the first of its three sunrise periods in mid-June, just three months from now.

We’re looking at a landrush certainly before the end of the year.

While ICM, in a press release today, said .xxx domains “will only be available to the adult entertainment industry”, the industry is self-defining, and president Stuart Lawley has previously stated that flipping porn domain names counts as an industry service.

Domain investors are welcome, if not necessarily encouraged, in other words.

I hear ICM has already reached out to registrars, giving them a mid-April deadline to apply to be evaluated.

The TLD launching on schedule will of course also depend on whether any legal action is taken to stop it. Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, said at a press conference yesterday that the FSC is thinking about suing.

She also said that it may arrange some kind of boycott, which strikes me as a terrible idea – how many pornographers will refuse to defensively register their .xxx domains out of principle? Very few, I suspect.

The FSC said last week that it was also looking into a Reconsideration Request or an Independent Review Panel procedure, which are the only two real avenues of appeal through ICANN.

An IRP could be more expensive than a lawsuit, and if precedent is any guide even a successful Reconsideration would be moot – it would take at least a month, by which time ICM’s registry contract would be long since signed.

It seems likely that ICM’s long, strange, expensive journey into the DNS may finally be at an end.

Porn rally underway at ICANN San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2011, Domain Policy

A small group of Free Speech Coalition supporters are currently holding a protest against the .xxx top-level domain, outside the ICANN meeting in San Francisco.

The rally outside the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square has attracted about 25 people by my count, chanting slogans such as “We want porn! No triple-X!”

Noted porn producer/performer John “Buttman” Stagliano is among them, although he seems to be keeping to the sidelines.

Not to judge, but another of the protestors appears to be the same homeless guy who’s been bothering me for change and cigarettes all week.

Also attending, first amendment attorney Paul Cambria. There’s an unsubstantiated rumor he’s ready to serve ICANN and/or ICM Registry with a lawsuit if .xxx gets approved tomorrow.

He declined to comment on the rumor.

There’s an FSC press conference shortly, and Cambria tells me he’s going to be making a statement at the ICANN public comment forum later this afternoon.

I’ll update when it becomes clearer what the FSC’s game-plan is.

Porn group threatens lawsuits over new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2010, Domain Registries

Porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition has added its name to the list of organizations saying that ICANN could be sued over its new top-level domains program.

In her latest letter to ICANN, FSC executive director Diane Duke has made a last-ditch attempt to get the proposed .xxx TLD rejected, and not-so-subtly raises the threat of court action:

ICM Registry promises millions of dollars of income for ICANN, assuming that income is not consumed by the inevitable litigation which ICANN will find itself a party to if the proposal is adopted

But she also writes about lawsuits targeting the new TLD program itself.

ICM’s .xxx application is being handled under the rules established for “sponsored” TLDs in 2003, rather than the rules for gTLDs in the Applicant Guidebook that will be enforced in future.

As such, .xxx is not subject to challenges such as the “morality and public order objections” envisioned by the AGB, unlike potential future applications such as .porn. Duke wrote:

What about those in the adult community who wish to apply for a gTLD? With ICANN’s policy development in regards to “Morality and Public Order” will gTLDs be held to a higher standard than the sTLD? Does ICANN believe that it is not liable for this inequity? Any company prepared to invest the substantial moneys necessary to manage a gTLD will surely take ICANN to court to demand equitable standards for their TLD application.

She goes on to suggest that ICM itself may sue to block such applicants.

Does ICANN really believe that the litigious ICM will sit idly by while a .SEX or .PORN gTLD is introduced? Is ICANN so naive to believe that the purveyor of the “sponsored” TLD, who spent in excess of $10 million to bully its way through ICANN’s processes, will stop its threats of litigation with a mere approval of the sTLD?

Is the FSC privy to the TLD aspirations of others in the adult business? Or is this just a lot of hot air born out of desperation? I guess time will tell.

The FSC becomes the third organization to publicly threaten litigation in order to get what it wants out of ICANN.

As I’ve previously reported, the International Olympic Committee and the BITS financial trade group have already made similar noises.

ICANN expects to set aside $60,000 from every $185,000 TLD application fee to deal with “risks” including the expense of defending itself from lawsuits.

The ICANN board is expected to vote on the .xxx application and the new TLD program next Friday. I expect the number of organizations threatening lawsuits will be in double figures by then.

Will .xxx be approved today?

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Will the adults-only .xxx top-level domain be approved today, or will the hot potato be tossed to governments for a decision?

That’s the question facing ICANN’s board of directors, which is set to discuss the controversial TLD for the umpteenth time today.

The last resolution it passed on .xxx called for a public comment period, followed by a decision on whether the registry contract is compatible with old Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

With the comment period closed, it appears that all that remains is to decide whether a new GAC consultation is required before the contract can be approved or rejected.

Some opponents of .xxx are demanding a GAC consultation.

Diane Duke, director of porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition, wrote to ICANN this week, urging it to refer the application back to the GAC.

As Duke knows, many international governments are opposed to .xxx.

A week ago, Australia’s socially conservative, pro-censorship broadband minister, Stephen Conroy, also asked ICANN for another GAC consultation, expressing his “strong opposition” to the TLD due to its “lack of identified public benefit”.

And Conroy is surely not alone. There can be few governments that would be happy to be seen to endorse pornography, regardless of its legal status in their jurisdictions.

The GAC is firmly of the view that “controversial” TLDs present a risk to the global interoperability of the internet. The fear is that strings such as .xxx could lead to blocking at national borders and ultimately fragmentation of the DNS root.

Whichever decision ICANN makes today, it is sure to cause controversy one way or another.

ICANN rejects porn domain info request

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request from porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition for more information about the .xxx top-level domain application, including a list of its pre-registrations.

The organization sent a letter (pdf) to the FSC’s director Diane Duke last week, saying that the materials it requested about ICM Registry and IFFOR, its sponsorship body, are confidential.

This would make the information exempt from ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.

The FSC had specifically requested:

1. The list of the IFFOR Board members;
2. The list of proposed members of the Policy Council;
3. IFFOR’s Business Plan/Financials;
4. Business Plan/Financials Years 1‐5 utilizing 125,000 Initial Registrations;
5. The list of .XXX sTLD pre-registrants who have been identified to ICANN; and
6. ICM’s Proof of Sponsorship Community Support as submitted to ICANN.

According to ICANN, ICM was asked if it would like to lift the confidentiality restrictions and ICM did not respond.

The FSC believes that many of .xxx’s 180,000+ pre-registrations are defensive in nature, made by pornographers who would really prefer that the TLD is never approved, which ICM disputes.