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.XXX domain deal stripped bare

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The company behind a proposal to create .xxx, an adults-only top-level internet domain, is set to run the gauntlet of objections from angry pornographers and appalled Christians for the sixth time.

ICANN last week published a draft contract that, if signed, could allow Florida-based ICM Registry to start offering .xxx domains as early as next summer, and opened up a 30-day public comment period.

Pornographers led by the Free Speech Coalition are already asking ICANN to kill the proposal. They claim ICM's application is little more than a balls-out effort to bilk them out of money during a time of economic hardship and rampant piracy.

Domains with the .xxx extension are expected to cost more than $60 per year, compared to roughly $10 per year for .com domains.

Mike South, a self-described "Gun Totin’, Libertarian Pornographer", told ICANN: "How many times and how many ways do we have to say this? The adult industry OPPOSES this money grab by ICM registry. We do not want this abomination."

ICM says .xxx gives members of the adult industry the opportunity to self-identify, enabling easier filtering, and to promote responsibility by voluntarily abiding by a set of industry best practices.

Registrants will have to have their identities verified, and $10 from each domain will go to a new organisation focussed on supporting free speech and child protection efforts.

It's the sixth time over the last six years that the .xxx application has come in for public scrutiny. Most recently, this spring an ICANN comment period attracted an unprecedented 13,000 letters and emails, the vast majority of which came from outraged American religious groups.

The newly published ICM-ICANN contract contains a few amendments that highlight how controversial the .xxx domain application has become.

First and foremost, ICM has agreed to fully indemnify ICANN against any legal action that results from its decision to approve .xxx, apparently introduced in response to fears that pornographers could sue to block .xxx's passage.

In addition, the part of the contract that spells out precisely who will be eligible to register a .xxx domain has been rejiggered to more clearly spell out a bizarre Catch-22 that detractors in the porn industry face.

In order to be considered a part of the .xxx Sponsored Community and register domains, a business not only has to provide adult-oriented products and services but also has to "have determined that a system of self-identification would be beneficial".

Of course, opponents do not think that .xxx is beneficial, so they are by definition not part of the community. Technically, the only way they could become a part of the community, and have their objections taken on board as such, would be to drop their objections.

But the bulk of the changes to the contract, since its 2007 iteration, deal with the creation of and "baseline policies" for IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which ICM has created in order to independently oversee .xxx policy-making.

These baseline policies include bans on spam and phishing, and a prohibition on child porn, as defined by UN convention. The ban extends to marketing practices that suggest the presence of child porn, such as HTML meta-tags.

The hope is that by shifting all responsibility for policy-making to IFFOR before the contract is signed, ICANN can effectively wash its hands of claims that it is trying to regulate content. ®

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