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The New Online Porn: Meet the founder of ICM, a 12-person business in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that operates the top-level domain name “.xxx,” an alternative to “.com.”

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Stuart Lawley navigates Bear’s Club Drive in his midnight sapphire Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé, a $464,000, 3-ton, 12-cylinder land yacht so well-engineered that ensconced in its butter-soft leather, one barely senses motion at all. Lawley docks gently at a French-style château adjacent to the 15th fairway of a luxuriant tropical Florida golf course designed by “the Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus.

Celine Dion owns a place nearby, Lawley mentions. Michael Jordan is building on two lots just around the bend. Lawley’s one-story, five-bedroom, 9,300 square-foot stone manse has a perfectly green lawn made of plastic. “AstroTurf,” he confirms. “I rather like it.” The previous owner, an auto parts heiress, has moved to a larger spread elsewhere in the development. She was eager to sell, Lawley says. He offered $3.8 million, all cash, take it or leave it. She took it. There’s a catch, however: In early June, the homeowners’ association delayed the closing because some members were uneasy about Lawley’s occupation. “The neighbors are worried that a ‘big-time pornographer’ is moving in,” Lawley says. “Bollocks!”

Stuart  Lawley grew up in Britain’s industrial West Midlands. By the time he was 37, he had made two decent-size fortunes selling fax machines and creating business-to-business websites. In 2000 he moved to the Bahamas to work on his golf swing and sidestep a $40 million tax bill. He does not consider himself a pornographer. “Until I invested in ICM Registry in 2003,” he explains, “I was like any other normal bloke. I had looked, furtively, at dirty websites maybe three or four or five times.”
These days, he owns ICM, a 12-person business in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that operates the top-level domain name “.xxx,” an alternative to “.com.” The domain is designed specifically to showcase pornography. On a wall of Lawley’s office on PGA Boulevard, the framed item bearing his company logo is an oversize cerulean-colored condom. ICM’s spokesmodel, the curvaceous Nina Mercedez, markets herself online as the hottest latina in the XXX industry. So, let’s be adult about it, in the words of ICM’s slogan, and stipulate that Lawley is in the porn business.

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Assume you want to charge customers for videos and live webcam conversation featuring male-to-female transvestites. You could come up with a catchy name and buy an address ending in .com from GoDaddy or another website retailer. If you did, VeriSign (VRSN), a separate company based in Reston, Va., that operates the digital infrastructure for .com sites, would get a cut of your fee. In online argot, VeriSign is a “registry.” Lawley’s ICM is also a registry, and its .xxx sites are available via GoDaddy, too. As for the transvestite porn site, it’s called shemales.xxx, and it’s already been taken.

Since ICM went active last fall, online shingles have been hung for, among others, orgy.xxx, bollywood.xxx, and german-sex-portal.xxx. For several years, Mercedez, a former Miss Nude Universe, has run a cluster of .com sites. Lately she has also leased space at ninamercedez.xxx. If a potential fan Googles “Mercedes,” or “Mercedez,” “they’ll probably get cars or car parts,” she notes. If they want to see Nina Mercedez having sex, and they search for her name and .xxx, “they know they’re going to get porn.” Mercedez has built enough of a following that she shows up fairly high in search results anyway, but the ability to quickly find the porn you’re looking for is, in a nutshell, what the investment bankers would call Lawley’s value proposition.
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Within the virtual realm made up of “top-level domains”—.com, .net, .org, .gov, .edu, and so forth—Lawley portrays .xxx as a responsibly run red-light district. Go there if you want wall-to-wall copulation of a decidedly unsentimental strain; stay away if you do not. The days of “Ding, dong, pizza delivery man …” porn with a goofy plot and two principals are fading. Much of what’s online now is Web-quick, more revolting than titillating, and involves a level of brutality one dearly hopes is feigned.
Not to worry, says Lawley. It’s all just fantasy for consenting adults. Parents can use free browser settings or commercially available software to block all .xxx sites. What’s more, he promises that on his domain, legitimate customers can indulge carnally without fear of credit-card fraud, viruses, or inadvertent encounters with illegal child porn. As part of the purchase price of a .xxx site, Lawley includes daily scans by the Internet security firm McAfee (INTC), ensuring that the sites are protected from scammers using porn as bait to steal personal information.

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