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ICM will NOT offer free .porn names to .xxx buyers

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2014, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has reneged on its promise to “grandfather” trademark owners and other .xxx registrants in its forthcoming .sex, .porn and .adult new gTLDs.

While the changes are sure to infuriate trademark owners and .xxx registrants, the company insists that ICANN is to blame for blocking its original plans.

Originally, ICM had promised to reserve every .sex, .porn and .adult domain that matched an existing .xxx domain — if you owned or had blocked example.xxx then example.porn and so on would be reserved.

There was not to be a charge for any of these reservations.

The current versions of ICM’s new gTLD applications are unequivocal — nobody who owns a .xxx name or bought a block will be charged for the equivalent .sex, .porn or .adult names or blocks.

On names “blocked” by trademark owners during the .xxx Sunrise B period, the applications state:

All existing blocked names under the .XXX Sunrise B program… will not need to take any action to have those same names blocked in the new gTLD. All of these matching names will be automatically reserved from registration in the new TLD, free of charge.

On names registered in general availability, the applications state:

all existing .XXX names will be reserved from registration in the new gTLD and only registrants of that .XXX name will be given the opportunity to initially register that corresponding .XXX name in the new gTLD. If the .XXX registrant elects to register the name in the new gTLD, this can be done for a low annual fee. If the .XXX registrant does not elect to register the name in the new gTLD, then the new, matching, gTLD name will be reserved on [ICM’s] registry-reserved list at NO cost.

While neither application has been amended yet, neither of these statements are any longer true, ICM has confirmed.

Instead, the company’s new Domain Matching Program anticipates an extra launch phase between Sunrise and general availability. Under ICANN rules, it’s a Limited Registration Period.

During this month-long phase, anyone who owns a .xxx domain or block will be able to purchase the matching new gTLD names, unless it has already been registered in the Sunrise period.

What does this all mean…

For regular .xxx registrants?

If you own a .xxx domain, you no longer get a free permanent reservation on the matching .porn, .sex and .adult names while you make up your mind whether to buy them.

Instead, you’ll have to buy it during the 30-day DMP window.

ICM’s fee for DMP and Sunrise will be the same as for general availability, ICM CEO Stuart Lawley told DI.

Also, if there’s a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse that matches your second-level string, that trademark’s owner will be able to register the matching names before you get a chance.

Remember, not all TMCH users are legitimate brands. Some are domain investors gaming the system.

For premium .xxx buyers?

The changes may also concern registrants of “premium” .xxx names, many of which may have assumed they’d get the matching .porn, .sex and .adult reservations free of charge.

Porn site operators Really Useful and Barron Innovations, which have spent millions apiece on premium .xxx names such as teen.xxx and sex.xxx, have both said in ICM press releases that the grandfathering program formed an important part of their decision-making.

“We look forward to enjoying the benefits of ICM’s unique Domain Matching Program, which gives .XXX holders an opportunity to secure matching .XXX domain names in .PORN, .ADULT and .SEX,” Barron spokesperson Shay Efron said when the $3 million sale of sex.xxx was announced.

“We will be speaking individually to each premium name holder who purchased premium names after we had announced the original grandfathering plan,” Lawley told us.

It seems that the premium string will be registry-reserved, however, so there’s no chance of them being snapped up during Sunrise.

For brands?

If you’re a brand who bought a .xxx block during the Sunrise B period back in 2011, you no longer get grandfathered into a free permanent reservation in .sex, .adult and .porn.

Instead, you’ll have to buy your names as usual either during Sunrise, DMP or — if you feel like taking a risk — general availability.

The problem is: you only qualify for Sunrise if you’re registered in the TMCH, and most Sunrise B buyers are not.

Something like 70,000 names were registered during the .xxx Sunrise B period three years ago, but there are only 33,000 marks registered in the TMCH today.

The owners of more than half of the Sunrise B blocks, who may have thought their blocks would carry over to ICM’s three new gTLDs free of charge, currently do not even have the right to buy their names in Sunrise.

If you have a .xxx Sunrise B block AND are in the TMCH, you may find yourself competing with other trademark owners with matching marks during the .porn, .adult and .sex Sunrise periods.

Any Sunrise B match not registered during the Sunrise and DMP phases will be up for grabs during GA, just the same as any other domain.

Lawley reminds us that the .xxx Sunrise B predated ICM’s new gTLD applications by many months — nobody bought a block in 2011 thinking it would be enforced in all four gTLDs.

He added that ICM has “recently secured a unique offer through the TMCH that will enable trademark owners to register with the TMCH for one year, at a reduced fee.”

Why did ICM make the changes?

The changes put the registry on a collision course with the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN, which looks out for the interests of trademark owners and is not a fan of porn-themed TLDs.

“The IPC is going to collectively shit a brick,” one IPC member told us.

But the IPC, which has been unshakable when it comes to the strict enforcement of ICANN’s mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms, may have shot itself in the foot to an extent.

According to ICM, it’s ICANN’s fault, and indirectly the IPC’s, that it’s had to abandon free grandfathering.

In a statement sent to DI, the company said:

Throughout the ICANN approval process, ICM pursued multiple pathways to try and ensure its original “grandfathering plan”. However, due to technological concerns and strong trademark protection policies that ICANN’s intellectual property community requires in all new gTLDs, ICANN flatly rejected ICM’s grandfathering plan.

The mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms enforced by ICANN means that no domain names may be set aside before trademark owners have had a crack at the Sunrise period, ICM said:

Those rights protections require that TMCH-validated Sunrise Holders get the first priority for names in any new gTLD and also contain certain prohibitions on all registries from earmarking domain names for third parties.

However, ICM has still managed to set aside an unknown number of names as part of its Premium Domains Program — those names will be immune from registration during both Sunrise and the DMP.

It’s also going to reserve, free of charge, a bunch of “culturally sensitive” names — these are strings that members of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee asked to be reserved in .xxx.

Names related to child abuse material will also be registry-reserved at no cost to the child protection agencies that requested the blocks when .xxx launched.

Plenty of stuff is getting reserved, just not Sunrise B blocks.

ICANN’s rules against “earmarking” domains may have prevented ICM offering matching domains to regular .xxx registrants, but it’s hard to see how that would prevent a .xxx block carrying over to .porn. Blocks are not assigned to a specific registrant; they belong to the registry.

The .adult and .porn gTLDs are set to start their 30-day Sunrise periods March 1, 2015. The 30-day DMP for both will begin April 15.

The .sex gTLD was contested, so it’s running a little behind. ICM expects to launch it later in 2015.

ICANN puts porn gTLDs on hold for no good reason?

Kevin Murphy, July 4, 2014, Domain Policy

In a decision that seems to have come out of nowhere, ICANN has effectively put bids for three porn-themed new gTLDs on hold.

In a June 21 meeting, the board’s New gTLD Program Committee discussed .adult, .sex and .porn, calling them “sensitive strings”.

While it passed no resolution, I understand that ICANN legal staff is delaying the signing of contracts for at least one of these gTLDs while the NGPC carries out its talks.

It’s a surprising development, given that the three strings are not subject to any Governmental Advisory Committee advice, are not “Community” applications, and have not been formally objected to by anyone.

The report from the NGPC meeting acknowledges the lack of a GAC basis for giving the strings special treatment (emphasis added):

The Committee engaged in a discussion concerning applications for several adult-oriented strings in the current round of the New gTLD Program, including .ADULT, .PORN, and .SEX. The applications propose to serve the same sector as the .XXX sponsored TLD. Staff noted that the applications were not the subject of GAC advice, or any special safeguards, other the safeguards that are applicable to all new gTLDs. The Committee considered how the safeguards in the new gTLD Program compare to the safeguards that were included in the .XXX Registry Agreement. The Committee requested staff prepare additional briefing materials, and agreed to discuss the matter further at a subsequent meeting.

This begs the question: why is ICANN giving .porn et al special treatment?

What’s the basis for suggesting that these three strings should be subject to the same safeguards that were applied to .xxx, which was approved under the 2003 sponsored gTLD round?

.porn, .sex and .adult were were applied for under the 2012 new gTLD program, which has an expectation of predictability and uniformity of treatment as one of its founding principles.

Who decided that .sex is “sensitive” while .sexy is not? On what basis?

Is it because, as the NGPC report suggests, that the three proposed gTLDs “serve the same sector” as .xxx?

That wouldn’t make any sense either.

Doesn’t .vacations, a contracted 2012-round gTLD, serve the same sector as .travel, a 2003-round sponsored gTLD? Why wasn’t .vacations subject to additional oversight?

Is it rather the case that the NGPC is concerned that ICM Registry, operator of .xxx, has applied for these three porn strings and proposes to grandfather existing .xxx registrants?

That also wouldn’t make any sense.

.sex has also been applied for by Internet Marketing Solutions, a company with no connection to .xxx or to the 2003 sponsored gTLD round. Why should this company’s application be subject to additional oversight?

And why didn’t .career, which “serves the same sector” as the sponsored-round gTLD .jobs and was applied for by the same guys who run .jobs, get this additional scrutiny before it signed its contract?

It all looks worryingly arbitrary to me.

Uniregistry bans front-page porn in .sexy

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2014, Domain Registries

It’s okay to have a .sexy web site, just don’t make it too sexy.

Uniregistry, which will shortly launch the gTLD, has banned front-page nudity in the .sexy space.

Its Acceptable Use Policy, published this week, says that “content unsuitable for a minor” is not permitted on the home pages of any .sexy domains:

For the .SEXY top-level domain, the Registered Names Holder shall not permit content unsuitable for viewing by a minor to be viewed from the main or top-level directory of a .SEXY domain name. For purposes of clarity, content viewed at the main or top-level directory of a .SEXY domain name is the content immediately visible if a user navigates to http://example.sexy or http://www.example.sexy. No restrictions apply to the content at any other page or subdirectory addressed by a .SEXY Registered Name.

The policy goes on to spell out in legalese that it’s talking about porn, rather than nudity or erotica per se, and that “minor” is defined as anyone under 13.

Keeping the front page of web sites porn-free, requiring age verification before the user is allowed to drill down to the good stuff, is considered good practice among porn sites already.

Domain Name Wire, which first spotted the ban, has also published the policy (pdf).

Government forces Nominet into ludicrous porn review

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2013, Domain Policy

Should Nominet ban dirty words from the .uk namespace?

Obviously not, but that’s nevertheless the subject of a formal policy review announced by Nominet today, forced by pressure from the British government and the Murdoch press.

Nominet said it has hired Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions, to carry out the review.

He’s tasked with recommending whether certain “offensive” words and phrases should be banned from the .uk zone.

According to Nominet, MacDonald’s qualifications include his role as a trustee of the pro-free-speech Index on Censorship and a human rights audit he carried out for the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK’s child abuse material watchdog.

Nominet said:

Lord Macdonald will work with Nominet’s policy team to conduct a series of meetings with key stakeholders, and to review and assess wider contributions from the internet community, which should be received by 4 November 2013. The goal is to deliver a report to Nominet’s board in December of this year, which will be published shortly thereafter.

You can contribute here.

The review was promised by Nominet in early August following an article in the Sunday Times, subsequently cribbed quite shamelessly by the Daily Mail, which highlighted the fact that Nominet’s policies do not ban strings suggesting extreme or illegal pornography.

You may recall a rant-and-a-half DI published at the time.

While my rant was written without the benefit of any input from Nominet — I didn’t speak to anyone there before publishing it — it appears that Nominet already had exactly the same concerns as me.

The company has published a set of lightly redacted correspondence (pdf) between itself and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which makes for extremely illuminating reading.

In a July 23 letter to DCMS minister Ed Vaizey, Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley uses many of the same arguments — even giving the same examples — as I did a week later. She was much more polite, of course.

She points out that as a matter of principle it probably should not be left to a private company such as Nominet to determine what is and isn’t acceptable content, and that it’s difficult to tell what the content of a site will be at the point the domain is registered anyway.

In relation to the questions of practicality, the permutations of offensive words and phrases that can be created in the 63 characters of a domain name are almost limitless, so the creation of some kind of exclusion list would ultimately not prevent offensive phrases being registered as domain names. Were we to have a set of words or phrases that could not be registered, we would likely end up restricting many legitimate registrations. A good example is Scunthorpe.co.uk, which contains an offensive term within the domain name, or therapist.co.uk which could be read in more than one way.

She also points out that domains such as “childabuse.co.uk”, which may on the face of it cause concern, actually just redirect to the NSPCC, the UK’s main child abuse prevention charity.

The real eye-opening correspondence discusses the Sunday Times article that first compelled Vaizey to lean on Nominet.

As I discussed in my rant, it was based on the musings of just one guy, a purported expert in internet safety called John Carr, who once worked for the IWF and now apparently advises the government.

The examples of “offensive” domains he had supplied the Sunday Times with, I discovered, were either unregistered or contained no illegal content whatsoever.

Nominet’s correspondence contains several more .uk domains that Carr had given the newspaper, and they’re even less “offensive” than the “rape”-oriented ones it eventually published.

The domains are teens‐adult‐sex‐chat.co.uk, teendirtychat.co.uk, teens.demandadult.co.uk, teenfuckbook.co.uk and ukteencamgirls.co.uk, all of which Nominet found contained legal over-18s pornography.

One of them is even owned by Playboy.

Carr, it seems, didn’t even provide the Sunday Times or Nominet privately with any domains that suggest illegal content in the string and actually contain it in the site.

Judging by the emails between Nominet’s PR people (which, admittedly, may not be the best place to obtain an objective viewpoint) the Sunday Times reporter was “not interested in the complexity of the issue” and:

has taken a very hostile stance and is broadly of the view that the internet industry is not doing enough to stop offensive (legal) content.

The Sunday Times’ downmarket sister publication, The Sun, is famous primarily for printing topless photographs of 18-year-old women (in the 1980s it was 16-year-old girls) on Page 3 every day.

The Sun, the UK’s best-selling daily, is currently resisting a valiant effort by British feminists, which I wholeheartedly support, to have Page 3 scrapped.

In other words, the level of media hypocrisy, government idiocy and registry cowardice that came together to create the MacDonald review is quite outstanding.

Still, Nominet in recent years has proven itself pretty good at making sure its independent reviews turn out the way it wants them to, so it’s looking fairly promising that this one is likely to conclude that banning rude words would be impractical and pointless.

gTLD Objector says .sex, .gay, .wtf are all okay

Kevin Murphy, December 26, 2012, Domain Policy

The Independent Objector for ICANN’s new gTLD program has given a preliminary nod to applications for .sex, .gay, .wtf and six other potentially “controversial” applied-for strings.

Alain Pellet this week told applicants for these gTLDs that he does not expect to file objections against their bids, despite an outpouring of public comments against them.

The strings given the okay are .adult, .gay, .hot, .lgbt, persiangulf, .porn .sex .sexy, and .wtf.

A total of 15 applications have been submitted for these strings. Some, such as .gay with four applicants, are contested. Others, such as .wtf and .porn, are not.

The IO is limited to filing objections on two rather tightly controlled grounds: Limited Public Interest (where the bid would violate international law) and Community (where a community would be disenfranchised).

For each of the nine strings, Pellet has decided that neither type of objection is warranted.

In his preliminary finding on .gay and .lgbt, he also noted that to file an objection “could be held incompatible with the obligation of States not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity which is emerging as a norm”.

As part of a lengthy analysis of the international legal position on homosexuality, De Pellet wrote:

even though the IO acknowledges that homosexuality can be perceived as immoral in some States, there is no legal norm that would transcribe such a value judgment at the international level. Thus, the position of certain communities on the issue is not relevant in respect to the IO’s possibility to object to an application on the limited public interest ground.

For the porn-related applications, Pellet noted that any bid for a gTLD promoting child abuse material would certainly be objected to, but that ICANN has received no such application.

On .wtf, which received many public comments because it’s an acronym including profanity, Pellet observed that freedom of expression is sacred under international law.

He regarded the problem of excessive defensive registrations — as raised by the Australian government in the recent wave of Governmental Advisory Committee early warnings — is outside his remit.

Pellet’s findings, which I think will be welcomed by most parts of the ICANN community, are not unexpected.

Limited Public Interest Objection, originally known as the Morality and Public Order Objection, had been put forward in the wake of the approval of .xxx in 2010 as a way for governments to bring their national laws to bear on the DNS.

But it was painstakingly defanged by the Generic Names Supporting Organization in order to make it almost impossible for it to be used as a way to curb civil rights.

The GAC instead shifted its efforts to the GAC Advice on New gTLDs objection, which enables individual governments to submit objections vicariously based on their own national interest.

Pellet’s findings — which are preliminary but seem very unlikely to be reversed — can be read in full on his web site.

Christian group opposes .sex, .porn, .adult

Morality In Media, one of the groups that fought the approval of .xxx for years, has launched a letter-writing campaign against the proposed .sex, .porn and .adult top-level domains.

ICANN has received a couple dozen comments of objection to the three gTLDs over the last couple of days, apparently due to this call-to-arms.

Expect more. MIM was one of the main religion-based objectors to .xxx, responsible for crapflooding ICANN with thousands of comments in the years before the gTLD was approved.

Now that .xxx has turned out to be less successful than ICM Registry hoped, MIM feels its key belief on the subject — that porn gTLDs lead to more porn — has been vindicated.

MIM president Patrick Trueman wrote in one of his comments:

During the years of this fight against the .xxx domain, we said many times that the establishment of a .xxx domain would increase, not decrease the spread of pornography on the Internet, causing even more harm to children, families and communities, and make ICANN complicit in that harm.

That prediction has been fulfilled because the porn sites on the .com domain have not vacated the .com and moved to .xxx. Rather, as we have seen, the .xxx has just added thousand of additional porn sites on the Internet and .com porn sites stayed put. ICANN bears responsibility for this. The .xxx was not needed.

For some reason, the complaints are only leveled at the three ICM Registry subsidiaries that are applying for porn-themed gTLDs, and not the other .sex applicant.

Uniregistry’s application for .sexy has not been targeted.

And MIM has apparently not read the applications it is complaining about; its call to action complains about non-porn companies having to pay “protection money” to defensively register in .sex.

However, the three ICM bids explicitly contemplate an extensive grandfathering program under which all current defensive registrations in .xxx would be reserved in .sex, .porn and .adult.

ICM confirms three porn gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2012, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has applied to ICANN for the new gTLDs .sex, .porn and .adult.

If its applications are successful, the company plans to automatically block any second-level domain that is already registered in .xxx, including the Sunrise B defensive registrations.

This means if you own example.xxx, the equivalent .sex, .porn and .adult domains would be reserved until you pay a “nominal” activation fee to activate them.

As well as trademark owners, that would probably be pretty good news for owners of “premium” .xxx domains.

According to ICM, the four domains will not be permanently linked, so if you own a good .xxx you’ll be able to pay a normal registration fee then activate and sell off the three “freebies”.

Because the domains would be permanently reserved, there would be no renewal fees until you choose to activate them, which could well be the same day you sell them.

There’s a good chance these gTLDs will be contested by other applicants and objected to by governments, of course.

I’ve written more on the announcement for The Register here.

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.

More government domain name censorship?

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2011, Domain Policy

The government of Turkey has reportedly just kicked off a Draconian crackdown on domain names that contain words relating to sex and pornography.

According to the Hürriyet Daily News, a local daily newspaper, the telecommunications authority today send a list of 138 banned strings, many of them English words, to Turkish web hosts.

If the report is to be believed, any web sites containing any of the banned words in the domain will be shut down, even if the offending string is caused by two unrelated words running together.

The affect of the decision could see the closure of many website that feature the banned words. For example, the website “donanimalemi.com” (hardwareworld.com) because the domain name has “animal” in it, a banned word and likewise “sanaldestekunitesi.com,” (virtualsupportunit.com) would not be able to operate under its current name because it has “anal” in it; also among the 138 banned words.

In addition to many Turkish and English words, apparently the number 31 is also verboten, because it is local slang for “masturbation”.

The report suggests that the ban affects domain names in .com, not just in Turkey’s .tr country-code domain, but that it only affects web hosts, rather than access providers or registrars.

If the report is accurate (a machine translation of this regulator press release, in Turkish, suggests that it may be), it may be the strangest piece of government domain censorship in the internet’s short history.

Thankfully, if it only applies to web hosts (rather than to ISPs and domain registrars) I can’t see it having much of an impact.

If you host in Turkey, I expect that switching to a foreign provider will in many cases be fairly straightforward.

If there are any Turkish speakers reading this who are able to shed light upon this bizarre story, please do get in touch.