MADELEINE BRAND, host:
On the Internet, there's .com, .org and for the adventurous, .biz. Well, there's a new dot on the way, a blinking neon dot. It's .xxx, designed for providers of adult content. But this development does not excite everyone in the XXX world. From New York, NPR's Mike Pesca reports.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
After being rejected five years ago by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, .xxx's approval surprised many ICANN watchers, including the founding chairwoman, Esther Dyson, who wants more Internet suffixes in general, but has mixed feelings about .xxx.
Ms. ESTHER DYSON (ICANN): There's a difference between self-labeling and government censorship, and you don't want the government requiring people to register themselves one way or another.
PESCA: These concerns are why ICM, the company that was awarded the .xxx contract, hired Robert Corn-Revere, a First Amendment lawyer.
Mr. ROBERT CORN-REVERE (Lawyer): I believe it would be unconstitutional if policy-makers tried to require this to be a part of the Web or tried to force any particular Web sites into a .xxx domain. This is fashioned purely as a voluntary proposal and not as a regulatory structure.
PESCA: To guard itself against charges of censorship, ICM, a Canadian for-profit company, has a non-profit arm called International Foundation for Online Responsibility. Complete with an ombudsman, IFFOR has a complex organizational chart on its Web site riddled with more arrows than St. Sebastian. Lauren Weinstein, the founder of People for Internet Responsibility, has nothing to do with the adult Web site industry, but cautions against the classic slippery slope.
Mr. LAUREN WEINSTEIN (Founder, People for Internet Responsibility): What you end up with, of course, is a situation where you're going to have a vast array of content providers, perhaps as innocuous as Planned Parenthood, who might well find themselves being forced into these kinds of categorizations because the policy-makers, the legislators, decide that that kind of material is unsuitable for children.
PESCA: Weinstein predicts big ISP companies, so as not to offend certain customers, will decide to automatically block .xxx. Like today, Wal-Mart doesn't carry Playboy or even Maxim magazine. Weinstein also asks, `Weren't Henry James novels thought of as pornography?' The definition is subjective, and Potter Stewart did say, `I know it when I see it,' not `I'll know it when someone labels it .xxx.' The pornographers themselves are split, though lawyer Robert Corn-Revere says the big players are on board.
Mr. CORN-REVERE: Adult Web sites that represent the majority of the business have indicated their support for the proposal.
PESCA: That statement is as troubling to Weinstein as anything else because it undercuts the democratic nature of the Web. Corn-Revere defined majority not as most of the people with adult Web sites, but as the people who make the most money on adult Web sites, like Sex.com, a name estimated to be worth upwards of a hundred million dollars.
As tech researchers have noted, many of the commercial applications of the Web have been driven by pornography. The question is, will pornography be driven off the .com world, and if so, is that a cause for celebration or remorse? Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
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BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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