Why You Should Care About .XXX Domains

A new domain name extension, .xxx, is about to be unleashed on the world. Unlike the familiar .com, .org, .tv, .mobi, and other extensions, .xxx domains are intended for use by a specific community on the net. The proponents of .xxx have been trying to establish this new Top Level Domain (TLD) for a decade.  The process has been bogged down in a political morass over whether .xxx should exist, who should run it if it does, and how it should be run.

Fast forward to 2011.  ICANN, the international organization which holds sway over all Internet domain registries, has approved a plan for the .xxx TLD.  There seems to be concensus among unlikely partners that .xxx domains should exist.  Proponents include members of the adult entertainment industry who want to provide a safe environment to sell adult services, as well as religious and parenting groups who want to relegate smut to a red-light district which can be easily blocked.  The .xxx TLD, which will be administered by Florida company ICM, is in the “sunrise” period right now (more on that below), and will go live in December 2011.

The .xxx TLD has unique features that make it different from all other domains that currently exist.  A few of these are:

  • Domains are intended specifically for a certain community (the adult entertainment industry).
  • Sites in the .xxx domain will be malware-scanned daily through a deal with McAfee. They must also carry a machine-readable tag in their site code to identify them as adult sites, to aid in blocking them.
  • Defensive Registrations will be possible.  You can register to BLOCK your trademarked name from ever being used as a .xxx domain.
  • .xxx domains will be considerably more expensive than other domains.  Most providers are expected to set pricing at $100-$150/year.  Trademark blocking is expected to be $200-$500 one-time.

Sunrise Period: September 7 – October 7 2011

All new TLDs go through a “sunrise” period.  This is a 30-day window in which people and companies who own trademarks can register domains related to those trademarks.  They are allowed to do this before the new TLD goes live, so they avoid the mad dash of people grabbing domains on a first-come-first-served basis.  You pay a premium to register the domain early in this way, but it is considerably cheaper than going through the ICANN dispute resolution process after the fact.

The sunrise period for .xxx is unique because it offers a chance for a trademark owner to do a “defensive” or “blocking” registration.  For a one-time fee you can register a name such as yourcompany.xxx, if and only if you own a trademark on “yourcompany”.  This will not create a domain name per se, but rather block that name from ever being registered as a domain name by someone else.  If someone tries to visit yourcompany.xxx, they will land on a web site at the .xxx registry which informs them that the name is blocked.

There is some question as to how long “forever” is.  ICM says that the name will be blocked for as long as they have the ICANN contract to run the .xxx TLD.  That contract has a 10 year term, so the block will last at least that long.  If ICANN awards the contract to someone else after 10 years, it will be up to them to honor the blocks established by ICM. Since a blocking registration does not create an actual domain name, ICANN may not have any say in the matter.  However, one hopes they would make preservation of existing blocks a condition for any steward of the .xxx TLD.

Sensible Protection, or a Good Old-fashioned Shakedown?

People have been arguing for years over whether relegating adult sites to a domain ghetto will be effective or fair.  Will it make porn easier to block from your kids’ screens, or easier for them to find it?  Will it stigmatize adult content providers and hurt their business, or will the daily malware scans and implied assurances of lawful behavior give their patrons an increased level of comfort, thereby helping their business?  Is a defensive block a prudent precaution, or a waste of money?

We certainly don’t know the answers to these questions yet.  We are watching closely to see how this all shakes out over the next year. We (SWCP) have made arrangements with our domain registration partner, OpenSRS, to provide .xxx domains and defensive blocking registrations.  We don’t think that everyone needs to get a defensive block for their name (we have not decided whether to get one of our own yet).  But since the clock is ticking on the Sunrise period, here are a couple of factors to help you decide if you should get one.

You might need a defensive .xxx registration if …

  • You have a high-profile trademark for which a competing .xxx domain would be damaging to your business.  Several law blogs are recommending that TV and radio stations get defensive registrations for their call-letters for example.
  • You have had trouble with domain squatters registering your name in other TLDs in the past (e.g. you have yourcompany.com and someone else registered yourcompany.net or yourcompany.org).
  • If it just gives you the creeps to think of someone owning yourcompany.xxx.
  • If you think you MIGHT want to block the name later, consider that blocking it for a one-time fee of (say) $250 will be cheaper than paying $100/yr to keep a domain registered that you don’t want to use.

Now having said all that, there are some caveats to getting a defensive registration:

  • You can only block a name that exactly matches your trademark.  For example if we have “Southwest Cyberport” trademarked but not “SWCP” we could block southwestcyberport.xxx but not swcp.xxx.
  • There is no refund for registration fees, even if the application is declined.  The typical reasons it might be declined are if you don’t own the necessary trademark, or if an adult services vendor who ALSO has a trademark requests the same name.  At that point, preference is given to the adult vendor, and lawyers will be needed to resolve the trademark dispute.
  • If you just don’t care that someone else might use your name in that way.  After all, we face this issue in other areas of life.  A noted science fiction author said in a recent panel at a sci-fi convention that for a few years there was a Playboy centerfold model who had the same name. Google searches for the author turned up the model in the results until the model’s popularity waned.  The point being that a defensive .xxx registration will not protect you from every possible Internet reputation problem.

We hope this helps explain some of the issues surrounding the new .xxx domains. If you would like to do a blocking registration of your own, we have an application form here.

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