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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has voted against giving a green light for a proposed Internet red light domain. After a 5 year struggle to segregate online porn, the ICM Registry .xxx domain proposal was finally outvoted 9 to 5. This could be regarded as just another non-event in the dull as dishwater world of ICANN, were it not for the extraordinary comments from the office of the EU Information Society Commissioner. Reuters has reported that a spokesman for Commissioner Viviane Reding claimed the decision was “a clear case of political interference in ICANN and that “it’s a worrying development that the US administration has interfered in this process.

I can understand why it might look like political pressure was brought into play, and might even agree that it’s likely to have been. But where the EU argument falls over is in blaming Bush and the usual suspects of the religious right lobby in the US. If anything the opposite is true: this was the most unusual array of suspects in the history of Internet lobbying. Yes, the religious right lobbied hard against the proposal on the moral basis that it would legitimize pornographic material, but they were joined in opposition by the libertarians who feared the thin end of a state censorship wedge. If this were not a candidate for the odd-bedfellows of the year award, the pornographers themselves jumped into bed for a truly bizarre ménage-a-trois of resistance. As someone who has written about the online adult industry for more than a decade I can reveal the three reasons why: profit, profit, profit.

Moving a website, a profitable and popular website, from a .com to an .xxx is not a cost free process. Quite apart from the re-branding and marketing, there’s the possible loss of traffic by using a new and untested top level domain (TLD), Then you have the additional regulatory compliance issues that ICM Registry wanted to impose upon the .xxx TLD, such things as accurate meta-tagging and content labelling (in the sex business ‘fuzzy’ tagging delivers more traffic), customer privacy policies (selling customer lists is still a lucrative earner for many an adult site) and another nail in the bottom line coffin – intellectual property rights. Heavens above! If any industry disrespects intellectual property and thrives on copyright theft, it’s the online adult industry. As if this weren’t bad enough from the pornographer perspective, the final insult was that it would all be on a purely voluntary basis. Yep, the competition could happily stay in their relatively unregulated, proven profitable and long established .com space raking it in.

But even all of this doesn’t explain why the EU is so wrong, knickers twisted so tightly that they have become Gordian. Far from being some US driven plot, European countries represented at ICANN also voted against the proposal: Denmark, Sweden and the UK. Add to this no votes from Australia and Brazil, and you soon realize this was a global opposition founded on an undeniable truth. Without some kind of ‘magic bullet’ legislation that forced all adult content out of the .com space and into the .xxx domain, it wouldn’t do anything to help prevent unintentional access to pornography, it wouldn’t clean up the Internet, it wouldn’t keep kids safe from premature or inappropriate sexual exposure. As anyone with even half a brain can tell you, magic bullets are figments of the imagination. Pretty much like globally enforceable Internet legislation.

So what would an .xxx domain have accomplished? Well it seems to me that it would have made ICM Registry a lot of money, what with there being some 4 million porn sites serving a 12 Billion dollar per year market. Did I mention that Florida based ICM Registry was established for the purposes of lobbying for and then operating the .xxx domain? If the real driver behind the .xxx proposal was child protection, then perhaps it would be better served by lobbying for the creation of a .kid domain where only child friendly sites could set up camp...

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Last Post by happygeek
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I believe that may be at the root of it, yes. Although, as I said in the piece, the argument is somewhat diluted by the fact that EU member countries represented on ICANN voted against the proposal anyway!

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