Porn domain .xxx looms after legal victory

The Internet could soon see its first porn-only domain, after a landmark victory for the company behind “.xxx”.

A panel of jurists has ruled that domain name overseer ICANN broke its own rules when it denied would-be smut peddler ICM Registry the chance to sell .xxx domains. ICM said the victory vindicated its view that the US government, under the Bush administration, had pushed ICANN to scupper its plans under pressure from the religious right.

“We are eager to execute a registry agreement, complete the build out of our business, and implement the vision that started all of this over six years ago,” ICM president Stuart Lawley said.

The company has already gone live with a reservation service. But in a terse statement on its web site, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom pointed out that the panel's decision is non-binding. ICANN's board of directors will again consider the .xxx application next month at its meeting in Nairobi, he said.

ICM has been trying to launch .xxx since 2000. It came close to approval in 2005, but its proposal was put on ice after far-right religious groups spammed the US Department of Commerce with protests. Commerce has a tenuous oversight relationship with ICANN.

The decision to throw .xxx back at ICANN's board was made by a so-called Independent Review Panel, under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association. Under the rules, ICANN and ICM picked one judge each; these judges in turn picked a third to chair.

The ultimate decision was split down party lines, with the chair siding with ICM. Dissenting, Judge Dickran M Tevrizian Jr wrote: “I am afraid that the majority opinion will undermine the governance of the internet community by permitting any disgruntled person, organization or governmental entity to second guess the administration of one of the world’s most important technological resources.”

It was the first time such a procedure had been used. Both sides today hailed the process as a victory for ICANN's model of bottom-up decision-making and accountability.