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Porn and Gambling: Canaries in the SEM Coal Mine?

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Everyone knows that the Web was built by the porn and gambling industries. Without them, our industry would have been slow to develop compressed files and images, streaming media, analytics, and most of the major marketing methods we all use today.

True, the methods have been refined and taken in many different directions, but many of the marketers that have been doing online marketing and site development for more than seven or eight years had their hands in one of them.

Recent specific problems in both industries might help us again, this time as a caveat of things to watch out for.

Adult Content

On the adult side, a lawsuit by an actress over the use of her name could determine the future use of brand names.

Adult actress Devinn Lane is suing several adult and digital media companies for the use of her name, which she trademarked in 2002. Interestingly, she challenged the use of her name in domains, which is the part of the legal situation that may have a big impact on our industry in general.

People have been buying domains with branded terms in them for a long time for affiliate marketing and "made for AdSense" (MFA) sites, among other uses. Many people will be scurrying if this lawsuit decides there's a problem with that. As a recent AVN article notes, people are "taking much greater care in protecting their intellectual property," and courtroom battles are fast becoming a regular event.

Moniker is named in Lane's suit, which may be a stretch unless registrars are required to check every possible trademark against all domain registrations. But this inclusion of peripheral agencies is also becoming a regular method of attack, and one that may well add expense to operating online -- because if they need to use lawyers, then the expense will get passed along.

Gambling Domains Under Attack

The state of Kentucky is trying to seize 141 international gambling domains as a way to protect the state's lottery and horse racing industry.

"It doesn't seem plausible that a Governor could single-handedly order the forfeiture of domain names belonging to sites like Bodog, Absolute Poker, Ultimate Bet, PokerStars, Cake Poker, Full Tilt Poker, and Doyle's Room," wrote Jay Lakin, co-owner of PokerSource.com. "But that is exactly what has happened. If this were to happen outside the United States many would label it as 'censorship' and lambaste it."

If domain seizure becomes a reality, it could mean a major change in our industry. Just in the U.S., there are many state-by-state laws that are different -- for example, the medical use of marijuana -- that could allow domain grabs.

While both of these cases don't directly impact the online industry at the moment, everyone should be aware of what's happening with them because they could be rolled into mainstream situations very quickly. MFA sites and affiliate marketing methods could change fast, as could branding and trademark usage.

If Lane's suit succeeds, what's to stop a challenge to Google about allowing branded terms used in PPC? True, it's been challenged before, but with each new legal decision comes precedent that could be used against existing allowed methods.

Obviously, porn and gambling haven't stopped teaching us things.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

"PPC" is often known as "Pills, Porn, and Casinos" in the SEO world. This version of the acronym typically has negative connotations, due to the fairly accurate "bad neighborhood" theory. Many SEOs feel that links from these neighborhoods of sites can harm you.

It would be interesting if a "legit" site picked up a former gambling domain and suffered from "a lack of havin' paper" (rap lyric...look it up) when it came to outbound or internal link weight.

Trademarks are trademarks, whether earned on the design table or one one's back, I guess. I suggested at SES San Jose that some words or names could be used in certain industry-specific documents in order to increase the relevancy of that document.

For example, a number of pages with the words "Devinn Lane" in them, matched with the right mix of incoming links, could be given weight for porn-related terms simply by having that name on it. Lane's name should almost be considered public domain, because it's so clearly associated with porn. Of course, Google fought against its name being used as a verb, so everyone has the right I guess.

Gambling is a state-regulated issue and should remain so. Just like a physical casino, domains operating within a state should be subject to relatively uniform laws. I seriously doubt that the governor single-handedly came up with this legislation. One thing's for sure: the owners of the domains aren't going anywhere, and they'll find another way to provide the gambling services to their clientele within the affected states.

Porn and gambling aren't going anywhere...pills anyone?

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