ICANN board approves dot-XXX top-level domain for porn

It's been a long time coming, says head of ICM Registry, the company pushing for the new domain

Pornography will have its own top-level domain, dot-XXX, the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers decided Friday.

The proposal was made under ICANN's rules for "sponsored" TLDs, through which domains have been created by interest groups including the aeronautical industry (dot-aero) and the cooperative movement (dot-coop).

ICM Registry, the company that proposed the dot-XXX domain, welcomed the vote.

"It's been a long time coming," ICM Chairman Stuart Lawley said in a statement, adding that he is "excited" by the move.

"The decision should soon bring to fruition our six-year effort to create a specific Web address for online adult entertainment, and comes on the heels of an independent review that declared that ICANN's previous decision to deny dot-xxx was wrong," he said.

ICM Registry says it is a "completely independent entity with no affiliation, current or historic, with the adult entertainment industry."

That claim of independence gave ICANN board member Rita Rodin Johnston pause for thought. "I still question whether, in fact, there is a real sponsored community here," she said in the board-meeting debate before the vote.

However, she went on to vote in favor of the new domain, saying that despite her personal reservations about the proposal, she felt obliged to by ICANN's decision-making process. "It really doesn't matter what I think. What's important is that ICANN has a process that it set up and the process came back and said that sponsorship criterion was met, and that this board has the courage to follow that criterion," she said.

Dot-XXX domains won't start appearing right away. ICANN must first conduct a "due diligence" study of ICM's business plan for the domain, and then the board will review the contract proposed for the operation of the domain. That may involve referring the matter to ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee, which is next scheduled to meet in December in Colombia, said board member Bruce Tonkin.

"There is a potential that this is a prolonged process," he said.

ICANN has considered introducing a top-level domain reserved for adult-oriented Web sites before. It failed to reach a decision on the current proposal at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in March, and rejected similar proposals in May 2006 and March 2007. Dot-XXX and another supported by ICM, dot-kids, were among a long list of TLDs rejected by ICANN in 2000.

Friday's vote was not unanimously in favor of creating the dot-XXX domain: ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom and fellow board member Jean-Jacques Subrenat both abstained.

In a statement after the vote, Beckstrom explained his abstention, expressing doubts about the advice the board had been given on the project.

"While I accept the contribution to ICANN's accountability and transparency provided by the existence and the use of the independent panel review process, I am nonetheless concerned about the determination by two of the three panelists that the ICANN board should not use business judgment in the conduct of its affairs. In my view as CEO, the board must be able to use business judgment in order to protect the global public interest in the coordination of the root of the Internet and the domain name system," he said.

Subrenat, a French academic and former diplomat, did not give a reason for his abstention, but explained at length that it was "estabished on an informed basis with all due care, in good faith, in the honest belief that it is in the interests of the corporation of which I am a member of the board," and that it was "consistent with the dispositions of Article VI, Section 23 of the ICANN bylaws." That article merely notes that board members are presumed to concur with any decisions taken at meetings they attend, unless they abstain or vote against.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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