XXX domain,... good or bad for business?
The .xxx top level domain was proposed several years ago as the preferred domain for sites with "adult content", as a way of allowing web users to easily identify sites with pornographic content. Triple X was finally approved in March 2011, but now ICANN's decision is being challenged in court.
There were always a lot of arguments for and against the triple X domain as an alternative to dot com etc. One of them is that pornographic content is far from a black and white issue. Another is that such a domain could only ever be advisory and there is no reason to suppose that the porn producers around the world will feel the need to fall in line and put all their adult content sites under xxx. Surely most of them would simply use the xxx suffix as an additional name for their website, to give them even more chance of being discovered by potential customers. And perhaps most worrying for businesses, this is yet another domain that you need to defensively register, to stop the porn barons coming up with sites such as microsoft.xxx, amazon.xxx, ladygaga.xxx or skillzone.xxx?
The .xxx domain was opposed by the highly-influential GAC, (Governmental Advisory Committee), an ICANN committee made up of civil servants and government advisers from dozens of countries, but for the first time in its history, ICANN went against the advice of the GAC and passed approval for the .xxx domain. It gave exclusive authority for running the domain and selling triple X domains to ICM, a Florida-based registrar.
On September 11th, the xxx domain entered its two month long "sunrise phase" during which registrations were restricted so that established brands could register the xxx domains corresponding to their trade marks. After the sunrise period ended, it became a free for all on a first-come first-served basis. The price of registering a domain with ICM during that sunrise period, for a domain which in all probability you don't need or want, was about $200, and it is believed that ICM received about 80,000 registrations, mostly from companies which classify themselves as family-friendly and not involved in the porn business. Simple arithmetic says that's about $16 million spent trying to protect business reputations.
This is not the first time this sunrise procedure has happened for a new top level domain, and neither is it likely to be the last. The rationale for introducing more top level domains was the misguided belief that it would allow more people to get the domain name they want, but that is not what really happens. Instead, most of these new domains are duplicate defensive registrations to try to preserve the brand and ward off domain squatters. For example, we felt it necessary to defensively register skillzone.eu to protect our registered trademark during the .EU domain's sunrise period, and with other domains proposed such as .shop, .web, .jobs and so on all in the pipeline, the problem will only get worse.
But now two companies have gone to court in the US and asked for action against ICM and ICANN, claiming that ICM has been "extorting defensive registrations" with ICANN's blessing. And what is most surprising about that is that the two companies that have taken a stand against this domain racket, Manwin and Digital Playground, are themselves two of the big names in the internet porn business. Whilst it is probably too late to make much difference to the triple x domain, hopefully the threat of legal action in future will cause ICANN to think harder about this problem. Given the nature of today's internet and its reliance on domain names, is it right that ICANN makes unilateral decisions with global impact that can add millions of dollars to business costs?
29th November 2011
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