The Free Speech Coalition and ICM Registry are poised to do battle over the .xxx top-level domain at next week’s ICANN meeting in Cartagena, Colombia.
The FSC, which has opposed the porn-only domain for years, is trying to rally its troops with a flyer declaring it’s “Ready For War”, illustrated with a photograph apparently of Cartagena’s battlements.
(Apropos, really, given the city’s history fighting off the British and ICM’s habit of recruiting Brits for key positions.)
The FSC said on its blog:
the majority of adult Internet business owners and webmasters do not support being categorized in an Internet ghetto that will cost them millions in extra fees annually and also make it easier for anti-adult entities to censor and block their sites.
The trade group will be represented at the meeting by executive director Diane Duke and chair Jeffrey Douglas.
But ICM will have them out-gunned almost 10-to-1. President Stuart Lawley tells me the company is sending 19 people to the meeting.
Discussion of the .xxx TLD is on the ICANN board’s agenda for its meeting Friday December 10. I think it’s quite likely to be approved at that time.
The main stumbling block for ICM is ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which has expressed reservations about the domain over the years and is firmly opposed to “controversial” TLDs.
Which way the vote swings will depend greatly on what the GAC has to say, and how the power struggle it’s currently engaged in with ICANN pans out.
Here’s part of the FSC’s flyer.
ICM Registry, the would-be .xxx registry operator, has acquired the domain name dotxxx.com from a Korean domainer for $25,000, to support an upcoming marketing campaign.
The company is also expected to unveil a punny new slogan, “Let’s be adult about it”, following its recent hiring of international ad agency M&C Saatchi.
The dotxxx.com domain currently redirects to icmregistry.com, the company’s main site. The private sale used Sedo for escrow.
Given the amount of cash ICM has spent attempting to get .xxx approved over the last ten years, $25,000 is a drop in the ocean.
ICANN recently decided to refer its application to the Governmental Advisory Committee for a consultation, before it makes a final call on whether to approve it or not.
The DotFree Group, which plans to apply to ICANN to run .free as a top-level domain, has become one of the first would-be registries to open its doors for preregistrations.
From noon UTC today, the Czech company has made a tool available on its web site enabling users to reserve their desired strings by handing over their contact information.
Of course, there’s no guarantee any preregistration will actually turn into a .free domain – ICANN may turn down DotFree’s application or award the string to another bidder.
While the plan is to offer some .free domains free of charge, DotFree intends to hold tens (or hundreds) of thousands of “premium” strings for auction or paid-for registrations.
In other words, if you try to register any really juicy strings today, you’re out of luck.
DotFree is one of only a few unapproved TLD registries to accept preregistrations.
ICM Registry started taking .xxx preregs a few years ago, but only after it had already received ICANN’s approval (which was, of course, later revoked).
Another wannabe TLD operator, the MLS Domains Association, is charging “multiple listing service” real estate brokers many hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to own their own .mls domain name.
UPDATE: Messing around with the preregistration tool, I’ve noticed that it appears to ban any string that ends with the number 4. Presumably these will be “premium”, due to the “for” pun.
The long-running .xxx top-level domain saga has tested ICANN processes to their limits over the last decade, and it looks like it may do so at least one more time.
Digging a little deeper into the board’s decision to consult with its Governmental Advisory Committee before approving the TLD, it looks like the discussion will be quite broad-based.
The .xxx consultation could in fact have consequences for the board/GAC power balance, helping define the parameters of their future interactions.
The first is its communiqué from the Wellington meeting in 2007, which noted that several GAC members were “emphatically opposed” to the introduction of .xxx.
The GAC operates on a consensus basis. When it can’t find consensus, its communiqués also reflect minority positions. So ICANN now wants to know whether the Wellington letter constitutes GAC “advice”.
The question remains whether a position taken by “several members of the GAC” can be equated with GAC advice on public policy matters. If it is not GAC advice, then the concern of inconsistency [of the .xxx contract with GAC advice] diminishes.
Some may be surprised to discover that, after over a decade, there’s no broad agreement about when something the GAC says constitutes official “advice” that ICANN, under its bylaws, must consider.
Attendees to the Brussels meeting this June will recall that the joint board-GAC meeting, transcribed here, spent most of its time labouring on this apparent oversight.
In consulting with the GAC on .xxx, there’s an outside chance that some answers with regards the definition of “advice” may be found.
It wouldn’t be the first time ICM Registry’s controversial application has forced ICANN to address shortcomings in its own accountability procedures.
Notably, the Independent Review Process, promised in the bylaws for years, was eventually implemented to allow ICM’s appeal after it had pushed the Reconsideration Request process to its limit.
ICANN’s latest resolution on .xxx also refers to a letter (pdf) GAC chair Heather Dryden sent to the board in August, which expressed a desire that no “controversial” TLDs should be added to the root.
While ostensibly addressing future TLD applications, rather than TLDs applied for under previous rounds, the letter did say that “objection procedures should apply to all pending and future TLDs”, which was widely interpreted as referring directly to .xxx.
Last week’s ICANN board documents say:
If the “pending” TLD refers to .XXX, the approval of the .XXX sTLD Registry Agreement without allowing for these types of objections would be inconsistent with GAC advice.
I’ve reason to believe that the “pending” language may have been inserted quite late into the drafting of the Dryden letter, and may not enjoy the unanimous support of GAC members.
Regardless, the letter implies that whatever “morality and public order” or “Rec6” objections process winds up in the new TLD Applicant Guidebook should also apply, retroactively, to ICM.
If ICANN were to agree on this point, a precedent would presumably be set that would allow the GAC to issue thirteenth-hour “advice” that moves the goal-posts for future new TLD applicants, removing a significant amount of predictability from the process.
For that reason, I think it’s unlikely that ICM will be told it is subject to the Rec6 process (whatever that may ultimately look like).
The consultation, however, may result in some clarity around where the GAC’s powers of “advice” begin and end, which is probably a good thing.
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.