Will the .xxx Domain Name Kill the Online Porn Industry?

Earlier this month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a new Internet domain suffix. After a meeting in San Francisco, the group released a draft agreement that .xxx would soon become a Top Level Domain (similar to .com, .org and .edu) for the world's adult websites.

The group, which stands to make millions of dollars from the decision as all new .xxx domain names will have to be registered through the Florida-based ICM Registry at $60 each, has been debating the .xxx domain for at least seven years now. (The group has already registered about 250,000 domain names in anticipation of ICANN's decision.)

Ironically, anti-porn and religious groups, according to PCWorld, have been the most vocal opponents of the new suffix. "Anti-pornography groups and religious groups are against the suffix because they feel it will make porn sites more visible and be an endorsement to the adult entertainment industry," Sarah Jacobsson Purewal explained. But once the initial media fervor surrounding the creation of a new domain suffix dies down, it could do just the opposite. Creating a virtual ghetto for pornography will make it significantly easier for parents, employers and entire legislative bodies to police unwanted content.

In India, where the distribution of pornography is already illegal, lawmakers have taken steps to block all URLs ending in .xxx. "India along with many other countries from the Middle East and Indonesia opposed the grant of the domain in the first place, and we would proceed to block the whole domain, as it goes against the IT Act and Indian laws," a senior official at the ministry of IT told the Economic Times last week. "Though some people have said that segregation is better, and some countries allow it. But for other nations transmission and direct distribution of such content goes against their moral and culture."

The IT official conceded that the ministry would look at sites on a case-by-case basis if they continue to provide access to adult content through a .com or .in domain suffix, adding support to the argument that a .xxx suffix could cripple the online porn industry. A case-by-case basis for .com domains might exist in India, but how will other countries, which could soon follow India's lead in blocking .xxx sites, proceed?

It's unclear. But there is reason for porn providers -- and consumers -- to be concerned. When a company buys a new .xxx domain and alerts the ICM Registry, the new site will be lumped with any .com, .net, .in or any other sites that they own and operate, according to a Forbes story that was published after ICANN's decision. Legislators could target each of those lumps. X marks the spot.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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