Estimating how much money the online porn industry makes is difficult, not least because of definitional problems. What counts as “adult content”, for example? And most of the dominant companies are privately held. Current revenue estimates for the US range from $9bn to $97bn a year. The latter figure looks excessive, but a conservative estimate is $15bn. That makes it bigger than not only Netflix ($11.7bn) but also Hollywood as a whole ($11.1bn) and Viacom ($13.3bn). In other words, online porn is huge.
This has been an open secret in the technology industry for aeons. Many years ago, I was asked by a film producer to provide an outline for a television series that would explain the internet to the average viewer. I suggested that the first episode should be filmed in the server farm of a major online porn provider, to make the point that smut entrepreneurs have always been early adopters of the latest communications technology. When I said this to the producer and his colleagues, ice formed on their upper slopes and I never heard from them again. But the point still stands: the porn industry remains a masterful exploiter of digital technology.
The biggest sites have names such as YouPorn or Pornhub and are unabashed about what they provide. But in fact most of them seem to be owned by a holding company called MindGeek, whose website is a masterpiece of assured blandness. It tells us that it has more than 1,000 employees and six offices worldwide, providing services that include search-engine marketing, web hosting, advertising and “media content delivery”. All of which is doubtless true, but nowhere on the site is there any reference to what “content” is “delivered” or hosted on any of its properties.
In reality, MindGeek companies are brilliant exponents of the user-surveillance technology invented by Google and now also practised by Facebook – but with a critical difference. Google and Facebook employ the technology to build user profiles that their real customers – advertisers – pay for. In contrast, the porn companies see their viewers as potential customers: they closely monitor their consumption of “free” porn to infer what kinds of content they will be prepared to pay for. And then they specify and commission “premium” videos based on what they have learned from this surveillance.
So, in a way, the porn industry has transformed itself into a centre of excellence in data analytics. In that sense, it’s a less dishonest industry – or at any rate one that is much more transparent than Google or Facebook in terms of revealing what kinds of data it collects.
This is entirely true, I entered the search term into Google myself just now:
QotD: “These levels of physical and sexual violence are bordering on and including behaviour that would meet the criminal code definition of torture”
A concerning new trend tracked by welfare workers at the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence reveals clients who have been raped had been subjected to increasing violence.
Centre director Di McLeod in an address yesterday to more than 50 community stakeholders detailed the shocking violence which included women being subjected to group sex along with strangulation and choking.
Much of the violence had occurred after women were forced to have nonconsenting sex and their injuries required them to obtain treatment at the emergency departments at Gold Coast Hospitals.
“These levels of physical and sexual violence are bordering on and including behaviour that would meet the criminal code definition of torture,” Ms McLeod told the Problem with Porn conference at the Sharks Event Centre at Southport.
“What used to be an uncommon story is now very much an everyday story involving women of varied ages and diverse backgrounds.”
In the past five years the Coast centre had experienced a 56 per cent increase in referrals from emergency departments of local public hospitals, the forum was told.
“Sometimes the sexual violence is committed by a just-met partner, but in cases where the woman has knowledge of the offender’s habits she has often identified that the offender is a regular consumer of pornography,” Ms McLeod said.
The forum was told it was clear not everyone who viewed pornography would commit sexual and domestic violence “because some men who use pornography don’t rape”.
“But what research is finding and what we are seeing at our centre is that pornography is clearly influencing sexual expectations and practices between intimate partners, so that the correlation between pornography, rape and domestic violence can no longer be ignored,” Ms McLeod said.
The key finding by welfare workers was violent men using pornography could not see the difference between fantasy and reality and believed “women are up for it 24-7”.
The increased reporting figures were due to the extent of the injuries and view that many women felt less shame about admitting what had happened.
If sex is a service rape is just unpaid labor.
If sex is a service it can be provided to family members, morally.
If sex is a service it can be a small child’s career aspiration, and it should be supported as such.
If sex is a service then pornographic content can also be displayed to children, as they should be given examples of their work possibilities.
If sex is a service, and sex work is an existent opportunity to you, you can’t complain about being unemployed.
If sex is a service csa is just some form of child labour.
If sex is a service it is bigoted and against the costumer rights to denny service on the basis of anything, including sex, regardless of the workers orientation they should provide service to the costumer.
Things get really creepy when you mix things with inherent different natures like sex and labour, I know.
If sex work is work, then incest is no different than working in the yard or shed with mom and dad. It’s just practice for working in the real world.
Children being raped to death is just an occupational hazard
Twenty-five years have passed since Kennedy published Eve Was Framed, the groundbreaking precursor to her latest work. And while there has been some change – much of it initiated by Kennedy herself – progress has been halting and deep-seated reform is still urgently needed. “The smell of the gentlemen’s club permeates every crevice of the Inns of Court,” writes Kennedy. And it stinks.
Rape complainants are let down by a largely pale, male, stale judiciary that has struggled to keep up with changing sexual mores – don’t expect a conviction if you’re raped on a Tinder date, warns the QC. Kennedy points out that the opinion of a court (that saying “fuck me harder” while having sex on all fours constituted “unusual sexual behaviour”) “said a lot about [the judges’] own sexual experience and their lack of familiarity with contemporary pornography in which this behaviour is standard”. She also makes the fascinating and chilling observation that porn has radically changed “the repertoire in rape cases” since she first started in practice. “It is increasingly rare for women not to be penetrated anally as well as vaginally and orally.”
Women – whether criminals or victims – are still subject to the most antiquated of double standards. “It is hard to get across the idea that a woman is entitled to have sex with the whole of the football team, but draw the line at the goalie,” writes Kennedy, with characteristic bite. Rape victims have their compensation reduced if they were drunk. Meanwhile, girls are being institutionalised (unlike adult courts, youth courts can sanction behaviour that is not technically criminal but may harm a child’s development) for behaviours that in their male contemporaries would be dismissed as “boys will be boys” but in girls are seen as evidence of dangerous moral turpitude.
It’s a similar story in the adult courts, where there has been a “shocking escalation in the numbers of women being sent to prison” despite the already low proportion of women committing serious offences falling over the same period. The trouble is, says Kennedy, there are “no separate sentencing guidelines for women offenders, and the existing guidelines make next to no mention of gender-specific issues”. This leaves even the more enlightened judges with “a limited range of possibilities” – a problem that has been drastically exacerbated by sustained budget cuts”. Women’s centres have been closed. Curfews for women given community sentences save costs on probation officers “but can leave women vulnerable to domestic violence for the 12 hours per day that they are confined to the house”.
But it’s not just about cuts. It’s also about failing to design the justice system around women’s unpaid work. Little attention is given, writes Kennedy, to things like scheduling probation appointments during school hours, and research has revealed that “women’s childcare responsibilities are impacting on their ability to comply with their community sentences”. And women who fail to comply often end up in prison – “even where the original offence would never have merited a custodial sentence”.
A federal appeals court judge just made it a lot easier for the pornography industry to abuse and exploit children for profit.
The Aug. 3 legal decision, which has received far less media attention than it deserves, represents the most significant blow to opponents of child porn in decades. We believe it could lead to a sharp increase in the number of underage performers being exploited due to the removal of legal oversight and penalties for uploading or distributing images that feature minors.
We’ve been studying the business of porn for years, as scholars, advocates and experts in legal battles. In fact, we provided expert testimony in 2013 in a related court case and endured two hours of grilling from the judge and porn industry lawyers.
The industry is now celebrating its landmark victory. To us, it is a sign of porn’s growing power to fight legal battles and free itself from regulatory constraints as its business model rapidly changes in the internet age.
The case revolves around U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2257, which requires porn producers to keep stringent records on the ages of performers and allows federal agents to inspect them at any time.
The penalties for failing to do so are harsh, including large fines and up to five years imprisonment for a first offense. In the most famous case, the company that produced the “Girls Gone Wild” video series was fined US$2.1 million for 2257 violations. Although there have been few prosecutions, the potential penalties provide an important deterrent.
Over time, the Justice Department expanded the definition of producers subject to the regulations to include “secondary producers,” which includes internet distribution, and set out detailed guidelines for how the records should be organized and indexed.
Judge Michael Baylson of the U.S. 3rd Circuit of Appeals ruled that most of 2257’s record keeping requirements were unconstitutional on First and Fourth Amendment grounds. The ruling allows primary producers to fulfill age verification obligations by using a form developed by the Free Speech Coalition, the industry association that brought the lawsuit against 2257. In the most far-reaching and troublesome change, the decision completely exempts major distributors (termed secondary producers), from any record-keeping requirements.
While the production and distribution of child pornography remain illegal, the law is toothless without record keeping. The requirement provides the only way to verify and track performers’ ages and serves as a major incentive for businesses across the complex supply chain to monitor content.
The regulations came in response to the public outcry that ensued when Penthouse magazine featured a 15-year-old Traci Lords in its September 1984 edition.
Research and evidence demonstrate clearly that children who are exploited in the making of porn suffer from a range of devastating and long-lasting effects.
Four years later, Congress enacted the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act, which included Section 2257 and criminalized a wide range of transactions involving the use of minors in pornography, including the electronic transmission of visual images.
The rapid growth of pornography on the internet led lawmakers to pass the Child Pornography Prevention Act in 1996, which extended the provisions to include any digital image that “is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”
The porn industry has fought these regulations ever since they were first passed in 1988 and founded the Free Speech Coalition just three years later to coordinate the industry’s lobbying and legal strategy and to share expenses related to it. Prior to this month’s decision, its biggest victory was overturning the 1996 restrictions in a 2002 Supreme Court decision that permitted images of young-looking girls, as long as the performers were actually over 18.
The decision made the reporting requirements more vital that ever, as it was otherwise impossible to know the real age of performers who were made to appear very young. Nonetheless, the coalition filed many lawsuits over the years challenging 2257, claiming that the regulations placed an undue burden on pornographers’ free speech and violated Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure.
While different courts have struck down various parts of 2257 and then upheld them on appeal, overall the regulations have largely remained intact – until now.
In the 2013 case in which we served as expert witnesses, the Free Speech Coalition challenged 2257 by claiming that there was hardly any porn featuring young-looking females.
Constitutional cases often turn on whether a compelling public interest – such as protecting children from exploitation – is greater than any resulting regulatory burdens that might infringe on another group’s rights – in this case, keeping records.
Our research demonstrated that, contrary to the industry’s claims, “teen porn” and related genres featuring young-looking females have grown to be the largest single segment, representing about one-third of all internet porn in terms of both search-term frequency and proportion of websites.
The same Judge Baylson cited the strength of our research in his 2013 ruling to uphold the 2257 regulations. But in his decision this August, for reasons unknown to us, he appears to have changed his mind and sided with the industry over the protection of children. Indeed, the decision only considered injuries to porn businesses, not to children.
The Department of Justice might yet appeal, but most legal observers we have consulted with think that 2257 is in serious jeopardy.
The Free Speech Coalition claims that it has invested more than $1 million since 2005 to fight 2257 and is now asking for donations to cover outstanding legal debts.
Why is overturning 2257 so important to the porn industry?
The key reason, in our view, is that the regulations strike at the heart of the business model of the major corporate distributors of porn and particularly of MindGeek, which has become the largest multinational porn conglomerate in the world.
MindGeek and other distributors source porn content from a large number of fragmented low-cost producers, who are increasingly located around the globe. The growth of the market segment featuring young-looking females represented a potential legal threat. And distributors of porn – like other internet companies and social media platforms – want to avoid responsibility for content that could expose them to substantial legal and financial liabilities.
Although software solutions are available that could tag every picture and video with data on the performers, the complexity of distribution networks and the vast amount of product uploaded by third parties likely makes compliance with 2257 somewhat cumbersome and costly.
The porn industry has emerged as a powerful force that is trying to shape the regulatory environment to support its shifting business model. Compliance with age verification laws might cost the industry some money, but we believe this is a small price to pay to protect children from the predatory porn industry.
QotD: “Before reading it … I thought of pornography as essentially a free speech issue; afterwards, I saw that it was a crime”
The book that changed my mind
Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin. Before reading it – and, admittedly, discussing it with its author – I thought of pornography as essentially a free speech issue; afterwards, I saw that it was a crime – and by no means a victimless one.