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Web smut barons sue over .xxx 'shakedown'

Sites drag ICANN, ICM into court

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Two of the biggest porn companies on the net want to put a stop to the .xxx top-level domain, and they've taken their demands to court.

Manwin and Digital Playground yesterday sued domain name system overseer ICANN and .xxx manager ICM Registry on antitrust grounds, claiming that ICM has been "extorting defensive registrations" with ICANN's blessing.

The two companies are looking for an injunction, and have demanded that ICANN put the .xxx contract up for competitive bidding with strict price controls.

Manwin is best known for YouPorn, the porn-centric YouTube knock-off, as well as the popular Brazzers network of porn sites. It also runs Playboy-branded websites under licence.

The complaint focuses on ICM's recently concluded "sunrise" period, during which porn companies, for about $200, could apply to own a .xxx address matching their trademark or .com domain.

Manwin claims that the high prices and allegedly restrictive policies represent the actions of a monopolist, and that ICANN is also to blame for approving .xxx without price caps.

ICM received almost 80,000 sunrise registrations, the majority of them believed to be $200-a-time "blocks" filed by family-friendly companies and organisations outside of the porn business.

The block process was unique to .xxx because it had a one-time fee – every other domain extension charges an annual renewal fee for defensive registrations – but it was nevertheless criticised as a "shakedown".

ICM received $162 for every sunrise registration. ICANN will receive $2 a year for every resolving .xxx domain that is registered in future, more than it receives from any other domain registry.

Fabian Thylmann, managing partner of Manwin, said the lawsuit, which was filed in California yesterday, "uncovers a pernicious monopoly at the very heart of the internet".

The Manwin complaint says ICM "improperly exploited the newly created market for .XXX defensive registrations by making such registrations unreasonably expensive and difficult, and by placing onerous burdens on parties seeking to protect their intellectual property rights."

It states, for example, that companies should have been able to defensively register typos of their trademarks, rather than only exact matches, and that porn companies without trademarks should have been eligible to "block" .xxx names matching their .coms.

The complaint cites ICM's decision to block the names of over 4,000 celebrities for free as evidence that its sunrise fees were excessive.

"The claims are baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously," ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley said. "They also show an apparent lack of understanding of the ICANN process and the rigorous battle we went through with ICANN over eight years in full public scrutiny to gain approval."

ICM, under earlier management, applied to ICANN for .xxx in 2000 but was rejected. It applied again in 2004 and was approved, then rejected, then approved again after an independent review found ICANN had treated its application unfairly.

For several years it has been the subject of harsh criticisms from religious groups, which think it legitimises pornography, and portions of the adult industry, which think it could lead to censorship.

It also saw a lack of support from ICANN's increasingly influential Governmental Advisory Committee, which forced ICANN's board of directors to overrule its objections to finally approve .xxx in March this year.

ICANN spokesman Brad White told The Register: "Our attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and we have no other comment at this time." ®

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