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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 reservations pass half a million

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has now taken over 500,000 reservations for .xxx domain names.

The counter on its web site ticked up by about 150,000 overnight. This was apparently due to the bulk uploading of large requests from several dozen enthusiastic potential registrants.

ICM tells me that these are all requests for unique domains, not counting duplicates, and that over 100,000 requests were not added because they did not appear to come from legit sources.

The counter was around the 200,000 mark last Friday, before ICANN approved ICM’s .xxx registry contract. The deal generated substantial media interest.

Again, it’s worth noting that none of these reservations are guaranteed to convert into sales, they’re basically just requests to be notified when the domains become available.

The price of a .xxx domain is expected to be at least $70 a year, which could scare off some buyers.

Still, coupled with landrush and Founders Program sales, I’m fairly confident that ICM, which spent about $12 million fighting ICANN for .xxx, will recoup its investment before the end of the year.

Canon’s sexy reason for .canon?

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2011, Domain Policy

Canon made headlines and gave a small amount of momentum to the idea of “.brand” top-level domains when it announced, a year ago, that it would apply to ICANN to manage .canon.

There are plenty of good reasons why the company would want the TLD.

Beyond the more obvious search-oriented branding opportunities, some say Canon could try to boost customer loyalty and create new revenue streams by offering camera buyers services such as photo hosting at personalized .canon domains.

But here’s another reason that doesn’t seem to have received many column inches: as I recently discovered from a few continental friends, “canon” also means “sexy” in French slang.

I expect this coincidence was the very least of Canon’s concerns when its executives met to discuss their .brand TLD strategy, but it does highlight a major issue that some companies will have to deal with when the ICANN new gTLD program gets underway.

They may think their brand is unique, but unless they’ve done their homework they may find themselves competing with, or blocked by, equally legitimate applicants from other nations.

Companies planning to participate in the program – even only as a challenger – will need to have done a fairly daunting audit of their key brands if they want to avoid nasty surprises.

Ensuring a brand is a unique, registered trademark in one’s home territory is only the beginning.

Companies need to also ask themselves what, if anything, their mark means in other languages, what it looks like in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Chinese, and whether it has similarity of “appearance, phonetic sound, or meaning” to any other potential new TLD string.

We already have at least one double entendre in the DNS – the ccTLD for the tiny Pacific island of Niue, .nu, means “.naked” in French, as the registry discovered to its benefit many years ago.

If Canon had not decided to apply for .canon, could a French-speaking pornographer have applied for the TLD instead, on the quite reasonable basis that it is also a “generic” string?

ICANN’s trademark protection policies would make such a delegation highly unlikely, but Canon would have found itself forced into a defensive fight to protect its mark.

Of more immediate concern to the company is of course the question of who gets to register canon.xxx.

It seems likely that ICM Registry’s sunrise policy is strong enough to ensure that this particular .xxx domain is never used for pornography, but only if a) no existing pornographer has a trademark on the string and b) Canon remembers to defensively register.

In the unlikely event that Canon forgets to defend its mark, a pornographer who registered canon.xxx for a legitimate French porn site could well find himself with a UDRP-winning domain.

And don’t get me started on Virgin…

US upset with ICANN over .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has expressed disappointment with ICANN for approving the .xxx top-level domain, surprising nobody.

Fox News is reporting Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce and one of ICANN’s keynote speakers at the just-concluded San Francisco meeting:

We are disappointed that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the US. This decision goes against the global public interest, and it will open the door to more Internet blocking by governments and undermine the stability and security of the Internet.

As I reported Friday, ICANN used a literal interpretation of its Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice in order to make it appear that it was not disagreeing with it at all.

Essentially, because the GAC didn’t explicitly say “don’t delegate .xxx”, the ICANN board of directors was free to do so without technically being insubordinate.

Whether the GAC knew in advance that this was the board’s game plan is another question entirely.

Strickling is of course duty-bound to complain about .xxx – no government wanted to be seen to associate themselves with pornography – but he’s in a unique position to do something about it.

Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the named “Administrator” of the DNS root and ergo ICANN’s overseer.

It’s within his power to refuse to instruct VeriSign to inject .xxx into the DNS root system, but it’s a power few observers expect him to exercise.

As Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted yesterday:

If the US goes crazy and interferes with XXX’s entry into the root it will completely kill ICANN and open a Pandora’s box for governmental control of the DNS, a box that will never be closed.

Dire consequences indeed. It’s unlikely that the NTIA would risk killing off the ICANN project after so many years over a bit of T&A.

ICM sees 30,000 .xxx reservations in a day

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry is rapidly approaching the 250,000 mark for “pre-reserved” .xxx domain names, after racking up an extra 30,000 expressions of interest in less than 24 hours.

The counter on the ICM web site currently shows 243,972 domains have been reserved, compared to 211,942 at this time yesterday.

The counter ticked up by 2,000 domains in the 20 minutes it took me to write this post.

(UPDATE: The number of pre-reservations just passed 250,000, 24 hours after .xxx was approved.)

ICANN approved the .xxx top-level domain shortly after noon Pacific time yesterday, generating blogosphere buzz, a ton of Twitter traffic, and dozens of media stories worldwide.

An extra 30,000 domains is the same ball park as .CO Internet received following its commercial on Super Bowl Sunday last month.

But these free .xxx reservations will not necessarily translate into paid-for registrations, of course. Many people will be scared away from the fee, which I estimate is likely to be $70 to $100 a year.

But even if just one fifth convert, we’re talking about $2.5 million annually into ICM’s pocket, and another $500,000 to fund IFFOR, its sponsoring body. ICM expects to have at least 300,000 registrations in this first year.