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Will .xxx domain exploit names of companies?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 4:07 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Often associated with porn, the letters "xxx" wouldn't seem right next to Disney, as in Disney.xxx.

Until now, Internet addresses generally have ended with .com, .net or .org. Approved in March, the newest web suffix — .xxx — may result in companies lining up to protect themselves. And Disney, Microsoft and Fox may feel they need to pay to keep .xxx, and the pornography associated with it, away from their valuable brands.

That's because there is a small window in which a company like Fox can buy up the rights to Fox.xxx. After that, someone else could buy that domain name and fill it with porn in an attempt to benefit from Fox's trademark.

The idea behind the new Internet domain is to establish an online red-light district. It's the same concept as the shady part of town where it's easy for someone to find strip clubs or pornography if they want it or avoid it if they don't, only for the Internet.

ICM registry, the company who created and advocated the new .xxx domain, claims it's a viable solution, but others say it isn't that simple.

Ralph Yarro, president and founder of the anti-pornography group CP80, believes .xxx has nothing to do with making the Internet safer. He claims .xxx is worthless if it isn't mandatory, and it is simply a "money-making initiative."

"Who gets to buy Mormon.xxx?" Yarro said. "You have to pay the 'porn tax' to avoid it."

ICM Registry, a Florida-based company, set the cost at up to $650 per trademark to lock up a .xxx domain name — or make sure no one else does. And because ICM Registry is in charge of .xxx, they can set the price. Mei-Lin Stark, senior vice president at Fox intellectual property, said in a recent congressional hearing they have 400 trademarks to defensively register. Therefore, Fox could to pay up to $260,000 dollars in what they could consider protection money. That's enough to buy a six-bedroom home in Orem.

Alan C. Drewsen, the executive director for the International Trademark Association said not all trademark holders have the number of marks as Fox, but the fee is a fairly substantial cost at a time when businesses are trying to avoid unnecessary costs. He said companies often sue based on regulations that prevent someone trying to use a company's trademarks on the Internet, but it isn't a very effective process because it's expensive and the defendants will often get away.

"You could imagine a system where ICM would allow companies to protect themselves at no cost," Drewsen said. "But, that's not the route they have taken."

Perry Clegg, a trademark attorney at the Bateman IP Law Group, doesn't think a lot of companies have any need to fear. He agrees most companies would buy protection rather than wait for litigation. However, big businesses won't fear a fraudulent website, like our fox.xxx example, because they typically have the ability to get their .com at the top of a search engine results.

"I don't think necessarily everyone needs to be gearing up," Clegg said.

Despite claims on ICM's website that the new Internet domain's "machine-readable labels will allow easy and reliable filtering," anti-pornography advocates are certain that it will only multiply pornography on the Internet.

The problem is the new .xxx is voluntary.

Nathan Anderson, attorney and executive board member of Arizona Family Council, a nonprofit organization working to educate families about the dangers of pornography, has offered his thoughts on the .xxx issue in the past.

"One of the effects that would occur is that it will expand the coverage of porn," Anderson said. "The end result is that it will make the pandemic worse."

When asked for a response to the allegations thrown at .xxx, the company responded with an email, which read, "ICM could not be reached and were unable to provide a comment."

Internet domain powerhouse Go Daddy recently joined the ranks of 50 other registrars who are approved to sell the .xxx domain names.

"A large number of our customers have spoken ... and there is a demand for the controversial new domain name extension — for both brand protection and for new names," said Bob Parsons, Go Daddy CEO and founder in a statement.

Now that .xxx is approved, companies could create similar Internet domains like .xxx that raise similar concerns. These new domains would have to be approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, "a not-for-profit partnership of people from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable," according to their website. They also approve and regulate web addresses

BYU law professor Cheryl Preston said with .xxx on the table "nothing precludes another company from applying for a similar domain, such as .sex, especially since ICANN has given notice of an intent to increase the numbers of (Internet domains)."

If .xxx was required and porn companies were forced to abandon their .com domain, the plan could work, experts say.

Trueman said it isn't possible to force anyone to move to .xxx unless legislation was passed, which may prove difficult because of freedom of speech arguments. He later noted that the solution to the porn problem is found in U.S. obscenity laws, which he claims many porn companies are violating.

"Your big porn companies don't just own one website, they own maybe a thousand," Trueman said. "If you prosecute one of these major companies you would eliminate possibly thousands of websites."

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

Twitter: @joeyferguson

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