Are .XXX Domains the Next Porn Battleground?

When the movie industry slapped adult films with an XXX rating, porn companies came to embrace the scarlet letters. But when the nonprofit corporation that oversees Internet addresses rolled out the .xxx domain, the reception was unequivocally unenthusiastic.

Manwin, one of the porn industry's largest companies, is challenging Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, in an antitrust suit over the new domains. And while most other porn companies haven't rushed to join the legal fight, they're watching closely.

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Of all the companies in the adult industry, Digital Playground was the only one to also file suit — and Manwin bought that filmmaker earlier this week.

The goal of the porn companies remains the same, though. They're asking for an injunction to stop the .XXX top-level domain, accusing Icann, and the ICM Registry(the company that sponsors the .xxx) of engaging in "monopolistic conduct, price gouging, and anti-competitive and unfair practices, broadly harming competition, businesses, and consumers."

Neither company was willing to comment on the suit, citing active litigation. Other porn companies, however, offered different takes on the issue.

Triple X domains are intended as a voluntary option for porn-related sites. Advocates say it will be easier for parents to block the sites from children, rather than current filtering software, which isn't 100 percent accurate. The industry, however, fears that lumping all of its content into a single top-level domain would make it easier for search engines and Internet service providers to block their content. It also fears potential legislation making .xxx use mandatory for all sexually explicit material on the Internet.

While many porn companies are against .xxx domains, not all are as vehemently opposed as Manwin.

Vivid owner Steven Hirsch, for example, notes that because his company is trademarked, he's not worried about squatters taking over the .xxx domain and masquerading as the porn giant.

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And because the company isn't as diversified on the web, he says .xxx is less a financial concern than it might be to a company like Manwin, which owns numerous web properties.

"We are primarily Vivid," says Hirsch. "We don't have thousands of different websites with thousands of different domains."

New Sensations President Scott Taylor says his company isn't opposed to jumping into the legal fight, but it's taking a wait-and-see approach to determine if the cost of participation warrants involvement.

"I don't think there's anything positive that can come of this," he says. "Is it intended to protect children? I mean, I think there's too much out there that's readily available to kids who aren’t ready for it. There are very serious sexual images that I don't think their minds are ready for. I would look for legislation that would make it possible to block that, but to classify it as .xxx is fraught with problems for the entire industry."

Evil Angel founder and owner John Stagliano is much more outspoken about the debate.

“XXX is a joke," he says. "I'm not happy there's so much government influence. … I wish there was a competing Internet."

Ask some porn actresses, though, and they take a much different stance than the companies for whom they they work.

Stormy Daniels, a 10-year veteran of the industry, is an ardent supporter of the new domain.

"I think, from a performer standpoint, it's a very good thing," she says. "So many girls can't get their names as domain names because someone beat them to it — whether it's some guy in a basement or an ex-boyfriend. … The cool thing about .xxx is they will only issue the address to someone who holds the copyright or if you (as a performer) can prove you are who you say."

Fans, she says, could also benefit since they will know they're visiting an authentic site for their favorite performer or studio — and not one that simply appears to be, but has limited content.

As for industry complaints that a domain dedicated to porn could be blocked wholesale by Internet Service Providers and other entities, Daniels notes "the truth is if they have filtering software, they could do it anyways."