Industry Leaders Address ICANN Board at Public Forum

SAN FRANCISCO—Faced with a politically-charged atmosphere that can generally be described as dismissingly hostile, or at least dismissingly indifferent, a determined group of adult industry leaders gathered in San Francisco Thursday to express their opposition to ICM Registry's plan to run .XXX, the sponsored top-level domain that is alleged to have the support of the adult entertainment industry. The opposition was expressed in three ways: During a rally in front of the hotel housing the ICANN conference; at a mid-afternoon press conference; and directly to the ICANN board of directors during a two-and-a-half hour public forum later in the afternoon.

The lineup of industry leaders, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to put faces to the industry's opposition to .XXX, was nothing if not impressive, consisting of John Stagliano, founder of Evil Angel; industry attorneys Paul Cambria and Al Gelbard; Allison Vivas, president of Pink Visual; founder Peter Acworth; Dan O'Connell of Girlfriends Films; Colin Wasteland, founder of; YNOT president Connor Young; and Free Speech Coalition stalwarts, Executive Director Diane Duke, Board Chair Jeffrey Douglas and Board member Reed Lee.

The rally was not large but it was vocal and attracted a lot of attention as members of the industry waved signs and repeated anti-.XXX slogans to the amusement of passers-by and ICANN attendees alike. A smattering of media was in attendance as well. The press conference was held at a hotel a half-block from the conference venue, and filled the small room set aside for that purpose. In stating their anti-.XXX case for the press, leading members of the industry got to practice the messages they would later for the most part deliver to the ICANN board in anticipation of today's vote on the ICM proposal. After many years of trying to get the message through to ICANN, that support within the industry for the TLD is nil, this was the last opportunity to attempt to influence the people who would decide the question.

Thursday's public forum, during which interested parties are given the chance to address the ICANN board directly, the agenda, which is usually left open, was this time segregated by issues decided by the Board. At first, however, .XXX was not on the agenda, and only 20 minutes were left over at the end of the two-hour block for comments on unspecified issues. That strange oversight was rectified after Diane Duke complained to ICANN's general counsel, John Jeffrey, who arranged for .XXX to be tacked onto the agenda at the end.

Despite that slight, when it came time for .XXX to be addressed, the industry leaders lined up and addressed the board, whose demeanor can only be described as barely attentive, with respect, passion and clarity. Each spoke to their overriding concern, with most going "off script" to address the board as directly and personally as is possible in such an atmosphere.

Paul Cambria, the first speaker, talked eloquently and forcefully about his profound concern that .XXX is a content-based designation that will put a crack in the wall of free speech, and will become an inevitable tool of censorship if approved.

Connor Young recounted the interminable efforts by the industry, using every method and technology available through the years to get its message heard by ICANN. He wondered what we will be left to think if the Board allows a powerful and rich minority to trump the will of the majority.

John Stagliano gave a short but powerful comment about his own battles against the forces of repression in this country, and expressed his belief that .XXX will give the enemies of freedom yet another mechanism to impose their will on the industry.

Colin Rowntree thanked ICANN for putting on a show every bit as entertaining as a porn trade show—he was referring to the many contentious remarks directed at the ICANN Board and management earlier in the session—and then segued into an eloquent expression of his belief that the campaign by ICM to force .XXX on the industry is nothing other than extortion.

Al Gelbard went next, and clearly raised the ire of Board Chair Peter Dengate Thrush with his forceful denunciation of ICM's attempt to coerce trademark holders and brand owners to either pay him a bounty, lose their marks or risk diluting their brands as others use them in .XXX. A terse back-and-forth ensued between he and Thrush over trademark law, with Gelbard, a trademark law expert, getting the last word.

Peter Acworth next took the microphone, and also mentioned the extreme toll in money and time that having to deal with .XXX will cause his company; a toll, he said, that brought with it no discernable value in compensation.

Allison Vivas used her time to focus on the issue of child protection, and in particular how the industry already supports efforts (through ASACP and others organizations) to do everything in its power to keep adult content away from children by diligently labeling its sites. She also pounded home the idea that the industry is already responsible, and does not need an ICM to tell it that it is not— but that that would literally be the case if the ICANN Board buys into .XXX.

The three caballeros of the Free Speech Coalition rounded out the comments on behalf of the industry, with Jeffrey Douglas notably reminding the Board that for the first time it was seeing the people whose decision it would impact, and Reed Lee giving the Board something they most certainly did not ask for: Several solid fallback arguments by which they could vote "no" on the application and still remain true to the 2009 independent review panel, which voted 2-1 that the Board should have approved the ICM application instead of voting it down in 2007. It is likely that panel's decision that Board members will use as justification for not heeding the messages of the industry leaders who addressed them Thursday—and for many years before.