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YouPorn imposes embargo on .xxx sites

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2011, Domain Registries

Manwin, the company behind YouPorn, has stepped up its fight against ICM Registry by saying it will not do business with any .xxx web site.

Reported in the adult press this weekend, the ban seems to extend to webmasters hoping to promote their sites on Manwin’s “tube” sites, including YouPorn.

It also won’t allow its content to be used on .xxx sites, according to Xbiz.

Manwin is of course already suing ICM and ICANN under US monopoly laws, and has demanded an ICANN independent review, claiming the .xxx launch amounted to “extortion”.

The domain YouPorn.xxx is currently on ICM’s Registry Reserved list, meaning it was not acquired during sunrise and will not become available when .xxx opens its doors on Tuesday.

YouPorn is one of the web’s top 100 sites, according to Alexa.

ICM sells $700,000 of .xxx domains to Clips4Sale

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2011, Domain Sales

ICM Registry has just announced the sale of $700,000 worth of .xxx domain names to Clips4Sale, which operates a network of clip-oriented porn sites.

The cash deal comprises 30 domains including one $300,000 name and two others at over $80,000 each, according to the company.

The domains themselves have not been disclosed.

The $300,000 sale would be the 16th most-expensive domain of the year, according to DNJournal’s chart. Gay.xxx sold last month for $500,000.

ICM is taking .xxx into general availability next Tuesday.

Paul Raymond rebrands under .xxx

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2011, Domain Sales

Paul Raymond, a well-known porn publisher in the UK, plans to rebrand its portfolio around the .xxx top-level domain, according to ICM Registry.

It’s the “largest single migration of an adult brand to the .xxx top-level domain to date”, ICM said.

Raymond could be described as an old-school pornographer, with a history stretching back to the 1960s, better known for its clubs and top-shelf titles than its online presence.

The deal includes the domains paulraymond.xxx, prpvod.xxx, razzledating.xxx, mensworlddating.xxx, menonlydating.xxx, escortdating.xxx, adultsportdating.xxx, clubdating.xxx, fantasydating.xxx, mayfairdating.xxx, and paulraymonddating.xxx, ICM said.

Domains such as mayfair.xxx and razzle.xxx, Raymond’s best-known titles, may also be included, but they’re not mentioned in ICM’s press release. The domain escort.xxx is owned by somebody else.

The migration is expected to be complete by February next year.

The two companies have a relationship going back at least several months, with ICM regularly sponsoring events at Raymond-owned clubs.

YouPorn challenges new gTLDs with review demand

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2011, Domain Registries

YouPorn operator Manwin is demanding a review of .xxx, and ICANN’s top-level domains program by association, in a new Independent Review Panel request.

It becomes only the second company ever, after .xxx manager ICM Registry, to file an IRP request with ICANN. The filing came at the same time as Manwin sued ICANN and ICM in California.

The IRP demand ostensibly focuses on .xxx, but it also suggests that the forthcoming new gTLD program has many of the same flaws as the process that led to .xxx’s approval.

IRP is the final, and most expensive, appeals process available within ICANN for companies that believe they’ve been wronged by the organization’s decisions.

It was first used by ICM in 2008-2009 to have the rejection of its .xxx application overturned.

To win an IRP, complainants have to convince an International Centre for Dispute Resolution panel (probably three retired judges) that ICANN violated its own bylaws when it made a harmful decision.

The only reason .xxx is in the root today is that an IRP decided by majority that ICANN broke the bylaws when it approved and then rejected the .xxx bid filed in the 2004 new gTLD round.

Manwin’s IRP claims that ICANN failed to “adequately address issues including competition, consumer protection, malicious abuse and rights protection prior to approving the .xxx TLD”.

It also claims that ICANN failed to enforce ICM’s compliance with its registry contract, allowing it to engage in “anticompetitive conduct” and help violate IP rights.

The company is basically miffed that it felt it was being forced to spend money in ICM’s sunrise period, and that it was not allowed to block its trademarks and variations of its trademarks.

One of its oddest claims, which is in the IRP as well as the lawsuit, is that ICM was selected in a “closed process” that did not consider alternative .xxx operators.

The 2004 gTLD round was of course open to any applicant, so there was nothing stopping anybody else from applying for .xxx. One gTLD, .tel, did in fact have multiple bidders.

Essentially, the IRP demand cuts to the heart of the domain name industry and the new gTLD concept in general, challenging many practices that have become norms.

Sunrise

Sunrise is “extortion”, according to Manwin.

As well as being opposed to the idea of paying for defensive registrations in general, Manwin also thinks that typos and brand+keyword domains should be eligible for blocking, presumably for free.

It also believes that porn companies should have been able to defensively block some .xxx domains (which ICM called “Sunrise B”) and register others for active use (“Sunrise A”).

Speculation

Manwin’s IRP says that ICM did not act in the best interests of its sponsored community (ostensibly the porn industry) when it sold premium .xxx domains to “known domain name speculators”.

Well-known domainers Frank Schilling and Mike Berkens have invested millions in .xxx, but Manwin says their profit motives show ICM broke its commitment to serve the adult industry only.

Schilling, who signed up to buy domains 33 domains including amateur.xxx before ICM’s registry contract had even been approved, is reportedly already leasing out some of his .xxx names to porn companies for five figures a month.

New gTLDs

Manwin seems to support what you might call a ‘string first, registry later’ model for delegating gTLDs.

It states in its lawsuit and IRP that ICANN should have opened up .xxx for competitive bidding, apparently ignoring the fact that the .xxx string was proposed by ICM, not ICANN.

In the IRP demand, it suggests that allowing gTLD applicants to select their own strings is in violation of ICANN’s bylaws. The complaint states:

[ICANN] gave ICM a permanent monopoly over the .XXX TLD without considering other candidates for registry operator and without making provision for considering other potential registry operators at the end of the initial term of the .xxx Registry Agreement.

If Manwin wins, ICANN could be forced into a situation where it must ask for string proposals from new gTLD applicants and then open up each proposed string to competitive bidding.

That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s pretty much exactly the opposite of how the ICANN-approved new gTLD program is going to work.

The IRP and the lawsuit are also notable in that they target the alleged lack of economic studies that support .xxx and new gTLDs in general.

It states that ICANN “failed to conduct proper economic studies of the impact of the introduction of new TLDs, including the .xxx TLD”.

This is a frequent criticism leveled at ICANN by opponents such as the Association of National Advertisers and the newly formed Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.

Manwin is being represented in the suit and IRP by the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, the employer of Steve Metalitz, a well-known figure in ICANN’s intellectual property constituency.

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.