Exclusive ICM Registry, which runs the controversial .xxx top-level domain, today revealed that it has applied to ICANN for the gTLDs .porn, .sex and .adult.
The Florida-based company hopes to avoid "shakedown" accusations this time around - last year it faced severe criticism and a lawsuit when it raked in millions of dollars in defensive registration fees from companies buying .xxx addresses for their brands before cyber-squatters got hold of them.
Under ICM's proposal to ICANN, anybody owning a .xxx domain name by a certain cut-off date will have the matching .porn, .sex and .adult address automatically reserved.
Porn sites and trademark owners would not have to pay two, three or four times just to defensively re-register their brands, in other words. If you already owned example.xxx, you'd get example.porn, example.sex and example.adult automatically put aside for free.
However, ICM said it would charge a "nominal fee" to cover its costs if customers decided to activate and use their reserved domains. The exact price to buyers would be set by its registrar partners (companies such as Go Daddy and eNom), but ICM president Stuart Lawley told us ICM's cut would be a "small fraction" of the $60 a year it charges for .xxx addresses.
"We chose to submit applications for additional TLDs to spare .XXX participants from needless expense and to ensure the TLDs will be run in the same trustworthy and appropriate ways that .XXX is today,” he said in a statement.
ICM said it has already invested almost $2m (£1.25m) in the three applications; $550,000 of which will have been blown on the ICANN application fee.
But the company is by no means guaranteed approval. One or more of its proposed gTLDs are likely to be contested by other applicants, possibly entities from the same parts of the porn industry that objected so hard to, and continue to oppose, .xxx.
The irony of today's news is that ICM is having to reinvest some of the profits it made from defensive .xxx registrations to try to defend its de facto monopoly on porn-centric gTLD strings.
The .xxx gTLD has been criticised by pornographers due to its relatively high fees and for its promise to introduce policies that could restrict how .xxx domains are used. Now would-be competitors have the chance to offer a cheaper and unrestricted .sex or .porn domains and eat ICM's lunch.
ICANN plans to announce the full list of gTLD applications, possibly including other porn-oriented strings, on 30 April. Its deadline for submitting applications is today and the next opportunity to apply is not expected for at least a few years.
Government veto looms
The first approved gTLDs are expected to go live in 2013 after a lengthy ICANN evaluation and objection process. There is a significant possibility that .sex, .porn and .adult will be hit by the same official objections as .xxx from the porn industry, religious groups, and governments, which could hamper their chances of approval.
ICM first applied for .xxx in late 2000, but due to continuing scandals ICANN did not approve its bid until March last year.
National governments working through ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) strongly resisted the adults-only gTLD last year, but the weaselly way their objection was worded gave ICANN's board of directors the ability to approve it regardless.
This time around, ICANN's new rules give far greater powers to the GAC to have a new gTLD application rejected if one or more governments don't like it. If the GAC can find consensus against a given application, its powers almost amount to a veto.
ICM says it already has about 215,000 .xxx domain names under management. However, at least a quarter of those are believed to be defensive registrations filed by non-porn companies during the company's so-called Sunrise B process last October.
Under Sunrise B, companies could pay a one-time fee (of which ICM received $162) to have their trademarked brands taken off the .xxx market. Tens of thousands of names were blocked in this way, all of which now resolve to a standard ICM-owned placeholder page.
While it looked like a shakedown to many, the Sunrise B concept is now being advocated for all gTLDs by some members of ICANN's intellectual property lobby. Nevertheless, ICM and ICANN are being sued under US antitrust laws by Manwin Licensing, the company behind popular porn websites including YouPorn, Brazzers and Playboy.
Manwin claims the .xxx sunrise period amounted to extortion and that ICANN and ICM colluded to gouge porn companies, which both defendants deny. The three parties have an 8 May deadline to conclude settlement talks. ®