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ICANN Reconsiders Virtual Red Light District

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Nearly seven years after its initial proposal, the controversial .XXX domain, intended as an online “red light district” for pornographic websites, is soon to be reconsidered by the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which voted not to approve (but did not reject) the proposal in May of 2006.

The idea of a virtual seedy neighborhood has had its ups and downs over the years. ICM Registry proposed its creation to ICANN back in 2000. Five years later, just as ICANN was about to vote it through, two unlikely allies, The Free Speech Coalition (i.e., porn peddlers) and concerned Christian organizations set up a series of blocks.

Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, with concerns echoed by President George W. Bush, opposed the .XXX domain creation for fear that a virtual red light district would legitimize and propagate pornography online. Approval of the domain would be, in their estimations, indirectly condoning it. After thousands of letters poured into Michael Gallagher’s Commerce Department office, he asked ICANN to delay the approval.

Around the same time, Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) tried to create the domain via a bill in the Senate, which also required dotcom pornographers to relocate to the .XXX domain to make it easier to filter the content. The Free Speech Coalition, arguing that such a requirement would carry unfair costs for the multi-billion dollar industry, came out against it immediately.

Protests, logic, and unlikely partnerships aside, ICM Registry’s proposed porn district is on ICANN’s plate again this year, with some newly added concessions. ICANN published the required changes to the proposal on Saturday for public discussion.

The new Registry Agreement:

Gives ICANN the right to disapprove any change of control of ICM.

Prohibits launch of .xxx until agreements with third parties are in place to monitor registrant compliance with the labeling requirements and prohibition on child pornography;

Gives ICANN the right to disapprove ICM’s choice of monitoring service providers, and prohibits launch of .xxx until those agreements are in place

In addition, ICM is obligated to:

1. Provide financial support for child safety organizations, child pornography reporting services, and user empowerment technology development.

2. Develop and promulgate best practices to promote child safety and prevent child pornography.

3. Prohibit child pornography, including practices that appeal to pedophiles or suggest the presence of child pornography on the site.

4. Require registrants to label their sites, and any site to which a user entering the registrant’s xxx URL into a browser is automatically redirected.

5. Authenticate prospective registrants, and maintain confirmed authentication information.

6. Develop, and create automated tools to proactively monitor registrant compliance with registry policies related to labeling and the prohibition of child pornography.

7. Enter into monitoring and oversight arrangements with independent associations, acceptable to ICANN, who will be responsible for oversight of Registry Operator’s compliance with its obligation to prohibit child pornography and require labeling.

8. Create easy to use mechanisms for user reporting of non compliance with registry policies, and designate a compliance manager to receive and respond to such reports and administer procedures for curing non-compliance and penalties, including cancellation of registration, for failure to cure.

9. Designate an Ombuds-person to address concerns about enforcement of registry policies and handling of complaints related to registrant non-compliance.

10. Publish a modified UDRP applicable to abusive registrations of third party names.

11. Develop and post prior to launch a Country and Geographic Designators Reserved List, based on industry best practices and provide a mechanism for the GAC and/or an individual government to reserve (at no cost) names that match words of cultural
and/or religious significance.

The agreement also permits ICANN to seek punitive, exemplary, and other damages for repeated/willful breach.

ICANN says the public comment period on the amended proposal will last until February 5th.

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ICANN Reconsiders Virtual Red Light District
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