August 25, 2003 04:56am
Sites Reconsider X-Rated Domain
by: Joanna Glasner
Spooked by a new law authorizing harsh penalties for deceptive online porn publishers, adult webmasters are reconsidering a proposal for a top-level domain of their own. The plan calls for adding a new dot-XXX suffix to the Internet's root directory, to be used exclusively by adult-oriented websites.
Although it is not a new idea in porn circles, backers say the proposal is beginning to generate more support as the adult entertainment industry toys with the possibility of greater self-regulation.
"The vision here is not to force the adult community to give up dot-com or abandon that space, because that's not a possible thing," said Jason Hendeles, president of Internet Content Management Registry, the group applying to run the dot-XXX directory. "This would be a voluntary adult domain registry."
In the past, the adult industry's largest trade group, the Free Speech Coalition, has opposed the idea of a dot-XXX registry, fearing that porn sites would be ceding ground by voluntarily relegating themselves to a virtual red-light zone.
"The experience of most of our members is that any attempt to put a fence around adult entertainment tends to lead to more and more restrictions," said Bill Lyon, the Coalition's executive director. While it's not clear whether the same rules apply in cyberspace, he said, publishers haven't been eager to find out.
But Lyon said the coalition is now revisiting its position on dot-XXX. Its logic is that if porn publishers don't start finding ways to regulate themselves, Congress will do it for them.
To some extent, lawmakers already have. In a provision tacked on to the Protect Act, a law passed this spring that contains an assortment of child safety measures, legislators authorized criminal penalties for deceptive porn site operators.
The provision, copied from an older stand-alone bill called the Truth in Domain Names Act, would make it a crime to "knowingly use a misleading domain name on the Internet with the intent to deceive a person into viewing material constituting obscenity."
Under the law, those who deceive adults into viewing obscene content could face up to two years in prison. Those who mislead minors would face up to four years.
Introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the legislation is intended to punish shady porn publishers, particularly those who snap up expired domains and convert them to smut sites. Over the past several years, websites of numerous G-rated enterprises, including town governments, churches and educators, have fallen victim to such practices.
However, the chief worry for Lyons, who plans to file a lawsuit challenging the act as unconstitutional, is that the law is too vaguely written and does not define "deceptive." if a porn site decides to call itself "Ziggy's Playground," for example, can one say it is deceiving children, since many people associate playgrounds with children, he asks?
Or what about the infamous Whitehouse.com, which bears the same name as an established British adult magazine, but attracts plenty of visitors each day who are expecting a different sort of site?
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