PrOn domain defeated at ICANN

A plan to create a pornography-only internet domain has failed. The body in charge of the internet's naming system, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has rejected a bid by British businessman Stuart Lawley.

The bid would have created a top level domain purely for pornographic content in which addresses would have ended in .xxx. Lawley claimed that the domain would help pornography companies to adopt best business practices, but ICANN said that the proposal did not meet its criteria, and that the proposal would make ICANN responsible for monitoring content, which it did not want to do.

The proposal was first made seven years ago and Lawler recently told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that he believed that the only dispute it had to settle with ICANN was related to contractual details. ICANN has rejected the proposal on a number of grounds, however.

"This decision was the result of very careful scrutiny and consideration of all the arguments," said Vint Cerf, the chairman of ICANN. "That consideration has led a majority of the Board to believe that the proposal should be rejected."

ICANN said that the proposal failed to meet its criteria for a 'sponsored domain', and that its Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) had told it that the agreement "raises public policy issues" according to the minutes of the discussion at an ICANN meeting in Lisbon.

"ICM’s response does not address the GAC’s concern for offensive content, and similarly avoids the GAC’s concern for the protection of vulnerable members of the community," said the minutes. "The Board does not believe these public policy concerns can be credibly resolved with the mechanisms proposed by the applicant."

Lawley was applying for the domain as the ICM Registry. He said that ICANN's logic did not make sense, and that he would seek a way to continue with his venture.

"We are extremely disappointed by the Board's action today," said Lawley. "It is not supportable for any of the reasons articulated by the Board, ignores the rules ICANN itself adopted for the RFP [the request for proposals for new top level domains], and makes a mockery of ICANN's bylaws' prohibition of unjustifiable discriminatory treatment."

"Not least to protect the integrity of the ICANN process, ICM Registry will pursue this matter energetically," said Lawley.

The proposal was set back by ICANN research which found that only 23 of the 88 pornography webmasters it contacted were in favour of the plan. Domains of the type requested by Lawler are only awarded to proposals that are backed by an industry.

ICANN also said that it did not want to enter the business of regulating content. "The Board agrees with the reference in the GAC communiqué from Lisbon, that under the Revised Agreement, there are credible scenarios that lead to circumstances in which ICANN would be forced to assume an ongoing management and oversight role regarding Internet content, which is inconsistent with its technical mandate," the minutes of its meeting said.

One dissenting board member said that the "weak and unprincipled" decision was exactly that: an interference in content beyond its technical remit. "We should be examining generic TLD applicants on the basis of their technical and financial strength, and we should avoid dealing with 'content' concerns," said Susan Crawford. "This application does not present any difficult technical questions."