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.
.SX Registry has asked for its formal objection to Uniregistry’s .sexy gTLD application to be withdrawn, we understand.
It’s believed to be among the four objections, according to ICANN, that have been dismissed by the dispute resolution providers following withdrawal requests from the objectors.
The ccTLD registry had filed String Confusion Objections to .sexy and to one of the two applications for .sex. The .sex objection appears to be still pending.
While there’s an interesting decision to be had in the .sex case — how audibly similar are “sex” and “ess-sex”? — I’m not sure the same could be said for the extra-syllabled .sexy.
Resolution providers are currently in the process of picking panelists for all new gTLD objections, so decisions are not expected for months.
Note: this is the second and last time DI will use a Right Said Fred allusion in a headline related to .sexy. We reserve the right to mock others who use similar headlines in future.
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.
The Iranian government has filed late Early Warnings against 29 new gTLD applications, mostly on the basis that the applied-for strings are un-Islamic and “unethical”.
Bids for .gay, .sex, .wine, .bet, .poker and others relating to sexuality, alcohol and gambling are “in conflict with ethical standards” in Iran, according to the submissions.
We understand that problems obtaining visas for ICANN’s meeting in Toronto this October may have been blamed for the delay.
The initial batch of Early Warnings for the most part overlooked “moral” problems with gTLD strings, focusing far more on consumer protection, defensive registration costs and geographic sensitivities.
Not so with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is much more concerned about words it believes promote anti-Islamic behavior or represent Islamic concepts without the required community support.
The government says in its opposition to .gay, for example, that the gTLD would be responsible for:
Agitation and irritation of the humanity and faith; and spread of hatred and hostility in the society.
Encourage people to perform non-religious, Unethical and Non-rational actions in the society.
Encourage people on doing unlawful actions according to Islam religion in the society.
Getting away society from healthy environment for doing daily activities.
Several other Early Warnings use the same or similar language. Iran suggests that the applicants could remedy the problem by banning registration in Islamic nations.
Not all of its warnings are related to sex, drink and gambling, however.
It’s also objected to .krd, which has been applied for to represent the Kurdish community in the region, saying it could “raise serious political conflicts” and lacks support.
The .eco applicants have also been hit with warnings on the grounds that ECO is an acronym for the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional intergovernmental organization focused on trade.
ECO meets the criteria for IGOs to register .int domains, according to Iran, which is the GAC’s current proposed method of creating a list of protected second-level domain names for IGOs.
The full list of Iran’s objections is published here.
The CEO of SX Registry has denied rumors that the company already plans to object to the two .sex new gTLD applications, but has not yet ruled out such a move.
The company runs Sint Maarten’s new ccTLD, .sx, and gossip at the ICANN meeting in Prague last month suggested that an objection or two against .sex might be made on confusing similarity grounds.
The rumors were fueled in part by SX Registry’s sexy launch marketing.
But in a recent email to DI, Normand Fortier wrote:
At this time SX Registry is still reviewing the impact of various gTLD applications and contrary to some published rumors, has not taken any official position or decision regarding a future course of action.
Existing ccTLD operators are allowed to file String Confusion Objections against gTLD applications, if they feel there’s a risk of confusion if the gTLD is approved.
And .sx/.sex is far from a unique case.
In fact, of the 375 applications for three-letter gTLDs in the first round, 304 have only one character variance with one or more existing ccTLDs, according to DI PRO’s string similarity analysis.
ICANN’s Sword algorithm, which compares the visual similarity of strings, gives .sex a score of 57% against .sx.
I’ve checked every three-character gTLD application against every existing ccTLD and found dozens of proposed gTLDs with much higher similarity scores when compared to ccTLD strings.
The full results are available to DI PRO subscribers over here.