The news reports say that Sex, the domain name, is worth at leastUS$65 million. That’s how much a federal judge awarded the rightful owner from the pockets of a cybersquatter who made an estimated $40 million inprofit over a five-year stretch.
The value set raised a lot of eyebrows. After all, conventional wisdomheld that the most expensive domain to date was Business.com, which soldfor $7.5 million back in 1999.
Naturally, sex trumps business. But this verdict should be viewed as undeniable proof that sex on the Internet is business. Huge business. Andmaybe it’s time to bring it out in the open.
The battle over Sex.com is a rare glimpse into just how much money ischanging hands in the underground Web economy. It is confirmation thatpornography is the dominant force on the Web, even after a good fiveyears of legitimate e-commerce growth.
How many dot-coms would love to have been able to tell shareholders that the business cleared $40 million a year? Or $8 million? Or even $1 million? Literally thousands of dot-coms would love to be in that position, from those selling automobiles to those selling zebra-print handbags.
Now, Sex.com had an advantage in that it was being run illegally,on someone else’s domain name no less. Who knows how many other sites arerunning that way without paying taxes and without any protection of theiruser’s private information.
But the fact remains that e-business success stories are needed in whatever form they come.
No Brown Bag
Of course, society won’t have it. That’s the reason onlinepornography was hidden below the surface to begin with.
But pornography and the Web go together as well as — or better than — any other product and trade channel. Porn and the Internet were made for each other. Think about it: The buyer need never show his face, and doesn’t have to leave home. And in exchange for that much-desired privacy, users are willing to deal with fly-by-night companies, and even give their credit card data away to questionable vendors.
Very few people were shocked to learn that federalinvestigators were charging some New York-based Web pornographers with illegally billing customers millions of dollars. One official admitted that thousands of such cases probably go unreported because of the nature of the complaints.
There is an immediate advantage to be had if we bring legitimacy to theunderground portion of the Internet: security for theconsumer. And the boost in security goes well beyond preventing potential thefts. Wouldn’t having a well-patrolled Web — in all four corners ofit — guard against child pornography better than the current system?
Bringing an underground business into the light will have to take place a little bit at a time. The rightful owner ofthe Sex.com domain seems to have the right idea. He says he’s going toremove the hard-core photographs that have been on Sex.com and remake the site into a portal for people looking for a variety of paid adult sites.
That’s a start. Given the site’s profitable past, he will probablybe able to afford to put truly workable age controls in place and take steps to make sure that people, especially children, aren’t re-directed to adult sites unwittingly.
With the ruling in the Sex.com case, a bright spotlight was aimed at the underground world of online porn. Thus, now is as good a time as any to start bringing more of the Web’s darker side above board where it can be patrolled. Delicately, of course, so as to not infringe upon anyone’s rights.
Once brought into the light, some of the Web’s dark side can become a much-needed success story for the basic premiseof e-commerce.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.