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For X-Rated, a Domain of Their Own

SAN FRANCISCO — from – What if the Web held a sex party and no one showed up?

That’s what could happen now that the agency governing the Internet address system all but approved the creation of a new red-light district on the Web. The problem is that some of the biggest names in online pornography prefer not to be in that neighborhood.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Friday agreed to move forward on a long-standing proposal from a Florida company to create a specialized dot-xxx suffix for adult entertainment Web sites. But the plan upset much of the adult entertainment industry. It joined hands with religious groups in lobbying against it, arguing that the new domains would lead to regulation and marginalization.

The alliance “made for strange bedfellows, for sure,” said Diane Duke [pictured], executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association representing more than 1,000 adult entertainment businesses.

The company sponsoring the dot-xxx domain, the ICM Registry, said it had a vision of a red-light district in cyberspace that was a clean, well-lighted place, free of spam, viruses and credit card thieves. Content would be clearly labeled as adult and the whole neighborhood would be easy to block. Anyone offended by pornography could simply stay out.

“It is good for everybody,” said Stuart Lawley, the chairman and chief executive of ICM.

“It is a win for the consumer of adult content. They will know that the dot-xxx sites will operate by certain standards.”

That did not satisfy religious groups that opposed the dot-xxx domains, fearing they would make pornography even more prevalent online. And Ms. Duke said that “there is no support from our community” for the plan.

Her organization’s members, which include big industry names like Hustler and Adam & Eve, were concerned that the board overseeing the dot-xxx domain could engage in censorship and that the entire industry could come under increased regulation. “If the board doesn’t like what a producer creates, there is the possibility that they could censor it,” Ms. Duke said. “This will ghettoize our industry and make us a target of regulation.”

Ms. Duke said most of her members planned to continue operating out of their dot-com domains.

But Mr. Lawley is not worried. Online sex is big business, and he expects his company will benefit. Each domain registration will cost $60 a year, with $10 going to a nonprofit organization promoting “responsible business practices” for the industry.

Mr. Lawley said more than 100,000 domains had preregistered. He said he expected that when the dot-xxx domains opened for business, nine to 12 months from now, some 500,000 domains would register, or roughly 10 percent of the five million to six million adult online sites.

But Ms. Duke said many of those were likely to be “defensive” registrations, from businesses that wanted to prevent their names from being hijacked. Mr. Lawley said businesses could ensure that their names were not misused in the dot-xxx world by paying a one-time fee, to be set from $50 to $250.

In giving ICM’s proposal the green light in a meeting in Brussels, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which governs Internet addresses, reversed a 2007 vote to reject the dot-xxx domains, saying the decision was purely based on technical grounds. Peter Dengate Thrush, the agency’s chairman, said it had no interest or stake in the content of Web sites.

“The applicants believe that this will allow people to filter pornography more effectively,” he said. “If they do that and it works, that’s great for them. But that’s not part of our issue.”

The agency now has to negotiate a final contract with ICM. Ms. Duke’s organization plans to continue its fight against the dot-xxx domains.


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