FSC's Duke Weighs In on ICM's .Adult, .Sex, .Porn gTLD Applications
CANOGA PARK, Calif. — The chief executive of the Free Speech Coalition submitted comments today to ICANN over ICM Registry's gTLD applications for .sex., .porn and .adult.
In the letter submitted, the FSC's Diane Duke opposed each of ICM Registry's gTLD applications on "community objection grounds," saying that the adult entertainment trade group has "profound concerns" about freedom of expression on the Internet.
Duke gave ICANN a three-part submission to complaints over ICM's attempts to operate the three potential gTLDs. Curiously, Duke did not file a comment relative to Internet Marketing Solutions Ltd.'s application for .sex.; the offshore company is the only other applicant for .sex.
Duke told XBIZ that she wrote to ICANN because the FSC believes that "no one company should have a monopoly" over adult entertainment gTLDs. She also said that ICANN likely will spend more time clearing or cutting some applications that are sexually oriented or controversial.
"It is important to get our views out in the open," Duke said.
Sept. 26 is the last day to file a comment on applications from the new gTLD program.
Below is the three-part submission in its entirety:
My name is Diane Duke, and I am the Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC). FSC is the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, representing thousands of businesses and individuals involved in producing and disseminating sexually oriented expression and products. Virtually all of them rely upon the Internet in their work, most of them quite heavily. We thus have a vital interest in the sound functioning, open availability, and continued vitality of the Internet. From our long experience in the so-called ‘culture wars’ surrounding sexually oriented expression, we also have profound concerns about freedom of expression on the Internet. We have shared these concerns with ICANN in the past, principally in connection with our long-standing opposition to the .xxx sTLD. I write now in this 3 part submission to offer comments on pending proposals for .adult, .porn, .sex gTLDs.
ICANN understands that the adult entertainment industry is thriving on the Internet. It has been responsible for a great deal of the Internet’s widespread popularity, and has generated many of the innovations which Internet users now enjoy. The traditional TLD’s — particularly .com — have supported the mutually beneficial relationship between the Internet and the adult entertainment industry. The industry has never asked for special treatment on the Internet, and it has never generated any substantial support for designated TLDs related to adult entertainment. The industry’s long experience with censorship of the content of its expression has left it very concerned over the possibilities that any special treatment of sexually oriented expression on the Internet will open the door to censorship efforts by those who oppose individual freedom of speech and the freedom of consenting adults to define and choose their own intimate relationships. For these reasons, the adult entertainment industry has not generated serious proposals for new and specific top level domain names even in light of ICANNs announced decision to roll out thousands of new gTLDs.
With respect to ICANN’s TLD policy, FSC has long observed that a single or small handful of TLDs focused on sexually oriented expression would focus hostile attention on that expression and would provide obvious and dangerous censorship opportunities. Special TLDs are unnecessary for end-user content control; filtering options are already available for unconsenting adults to avoid exposure to sexually oriented expression and to restrict access to that expression by children. There is no need for specific TLDs to allow for content filtering at the source of the Internet transmission. Internet service providers have found plenty of ways to set and maintain their policies with respect to sexually oriented expression. What sexually oriented TLDs do, then, is to provide an opportunity for content filtering within the Internet, most likely forced upon the infrastructure providers by governments acting at the behest of hostile social and political groups. The Internet has thrived because it has avoided such censorship. ICANN should reject proposals which are likely to promote censorship not by allowing source or end-user content filtering, but by encouraging or promoting filtering in between — either voluntarily on the part of those providing access or, more likely, on demand of governments. For this reason, FSC has always believed that the Internet is better off without specific, sexually oriented TLDs.
FSC recognizes that the Internet is better off without specific, sexually oriented TLDs this is no longer the case, as a result of the unfortunate adoption of the .xxx sTLD. Given that there is already one sexually oriented TLD, ICANN should be open to the creation of others — many, many others. This might help dilute the tendency of one or a very few sexually oriented TLDs to focus opposition and censorship efforts. In our view, this is decidedly the second-best scenario — considerably worse than no specific sexually oriented TLD but much better than one or just a very few. But it remains the case that those involved in producing and disseminating sexually oriented expression on the Internet are simply not interested in sex-specific TLDs. The .xxx sTLD is not and will not be the smashing success which ICM had predicted precisely for one of the reasons we had pointed out all along: the so-called sponsoring community did not support it and in fact outright opposes it. There is little likelihood that it will flock to other, similar TLD strings in the near future.
But whatever ICANN ultimately does with respect to sex-specific TLDs in the future, it should reject any attempt by ICM — or anyone else — to corner the market in such TLDs. One of the principal advantages of the roll-out of thousands of new TLDs is the competition engendered among Registries. To the extent that this would bring market pricing mechanisms to bear on the TLD name space, this is a healthy development. But it would be entirely undercut by allowing one business entity to control multiple TLDs focusing on any single topic. ICM’s application for multiple sex-specific TLDs demonstrates just what FSC has always said about it. ICM has never been an industry-based or industry-originated effort at self-regulation or even at staking out a particular portion of the Internet TLD name space (which, as we’ve said, the adult entertainment industry has no interest in doing). Rather ICM has attempted and is attempting to use ICANN to establish ICM as the feudal overlord of all adult entertainment sites on the Internet. This is not Internet freedom nor is it even Internet entrepreneurship. It is rent seeking, pure and simple. Even worse, it is an effort—which can hardly be accidental — to establish an ICM monopoly position in the market—to the extent that there is or ever will be one—in sex-specific TLDs. ICANN should block this effort, just as it should block any similarly monopolizing proposals in other areas.
ICM’s current applications are particularly telling in what they demonstrate about what ICM and its supporters have told ICANN in the past. During the long debate over its .xxx application, ICM and its supporters from within the ICANN community repeatedly stressed that .xxx would be acceptable only because it was to be a sponsored TLD, and thus provide for the regulation which was somehow supposed to be appropriate for this content. This always struck us as dangerous and condescending, and we said so. But now it also seems false, because ICM now seeks control over additional sex-specific TLDs which are not subject to any of the supposed sTLD regulatory “benefits,” whether they arise so-called self-regulation or otherwise. ICANN can evaluate ICM’s say-anything-for-now tactics for itself, but others, of course, will be watching to see whether ICANN engages in independent evaluation or simply decides to hand out as many land-rush tickets to particular applicants as they wish to ask for.
Even beyond the straightforward monopoly concerns and the questions which ICM’s own statements and conduct raise about its business purposes, there remain questions about the relationship between the proposed new TLDs — in the hands of ICM — and the .xxx sTLD. To the extent that ICM seeks new TLDs to sell as added value to its overpriced .xxx domain names, this represents an abuse of the expanded gTLD name space concepts. If the .xxx sTLD cannot generate enough revenues, then it should be allowed to fail for the reasons which we and many others predicted. It should not be propped up and bailed out with additional general TLDs. On the other hand, if ICM promises to separate the operations of the TLDs completely, then one wonders what interest ICM — especially in light of its many past statements about the benefits of sponsorship (when only sTLDs were on the table) — is interested in .adult, .porn, or .sex at all. At the very least, ICANN should stop taking ICM’s word on these matters and require strict separation between .xxx and the gTLDs. ICANN should leave ICM to make what it can of .xxx and save other sex-specific TLDs for others—preferably some from within the adult entertainment industry — should a genuine interest in such TLDs ever arise from the community which would use them.
Throughout the long .xxx debate, FSC repeatedly raised its concern that ICANN is ignoring questions about freedom of expression on the Internet. On the one hand, ICANN foreswears interest in the issue, claiming only a concern over the technical aspects of the Internet. On the other hand — especially when there seems to be money to be made by long-time ICANN business supporters — it is ready to entertain TLD proposals without any sort of formalized evaluation of their potential impact on Internet expression or on Internet censorship. Whatever happens regarding sex-specific TLDs in the distant future, ICANN’s neglect of free expression issues—naive or otherwise, benign or otherwise — must end. ICANN should establish one or more working groups on freedom of expression and those working groups should play a role in evaluating any and all proposals for speech-sensitive TLDs. And more immediately, ICANN should reject ICM’s current gTLD proposals, hold ICM to its prior statements, and prevent ICM from building an exclusive Internet porn empire.