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ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

During a public forum at ICANN's meeting in Brussels today, general counsel John Jeffrey revealed that ICANN's board of directors will likely approve the domain tomorrow.

The decision would come despite outcry from some members of the adult industry, which turned out in Belgium this week to lobby against the proposal, and enormous letter-writing campaigns orchestrated by elements of the American religious right.

It also means that ICANN is likely to dodge the bullet of litigation that ICM Registry, the company behind .xxx, has been hinting at for months.

Flanked by his lawyers outside the meeting hall, ICM chairman Stuart Lawley said he was cautiously optimistic about tomorrow's board vote.

While the process is not yet complete, .xxx now looks closer to a reality than ever before.

ICM's application for the porn-only TLD was approved in 2005 by a previous ICANN board. Two years later, it was rejected, officially on the grounds that it lacked the support of the adult industry.

Porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition and notable industry figures such as Larry Flynt have vocally objected to the domain, saying it invites censorship.

ICM took ICANN to arbitration, an Independent Review Panel of three retired judges, claiming that the 2007 rejection broke ICANN's by-laws. Earlier this year, it won.

ICANN's Jeffrey said that the board will likely vote to approve .xxx subject to due diligence on ICM's financial and technical capabilities. It would then enter contract talks with ICM.

The contract would then go before the board, which would be expected to decide whether it is consistent with previous advice given by ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee – a panel of civil servants representing dozens of countries.

If the document is GAC-compliant, the ICANN board will vote on the contract itself, and .xxx will be approved, or not, for use. The best-case scenario for ICM would see .xxx added to the internet's root DNS at some point early next year.

There was nothing in Jeffrey's statement about the thorny issue of "sponsorship" - that is whether ICM had proven the requisite level of support from the adult industry itself.

ICM believes the issue was settled in 2005, and the IRP essentially agreed, but the Free Speech Coalition vehemently disagrees.

Diane Duke, chair of the FSC, told us earlier this week: "We are never going to concede that the sponsorship issue was resolved, because we know it was never resolved."

ICM plans to sell .xxx domains regulated by content policies set by IFFOR, the International Foundation for Online Responsibility, a group ICM itself created to act as its sponsoring organisation.

Duke believes that IFFOR, which will not necessarily be controlled by the adult industry, could end up setting policies that harm its businesses. ®

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