If you’ve any interest in technology or sex (or, like me, both), then you probably pay attention to the pornography industry. Or at least, you should. For a while now, there’s been a largely predictable lawsuit underway against peer-to-peer porn-sharers brought about by a mainstream (i.e., not even remotely feminist) porn studio called Corbin Fisher.
The suit is predictable because it alleges copyright infringement in much the same way that you might expect the Recording Industry Association of America to go after music “pirates.” What makes the lawsuit newly noteworthy, however, is its conclusion: the largest settlement in porn file-sharing ever. As XBIZ.com reports:
In what apparently is the largest porn file-sharing settlement against a single defendant in the U.S., an East Coast man has consented to a $250,000 judgment against him for uploading six Corbin Fisher movies.
XBIZ has learned that [a man known as T.S.]1 signed settlement papers on Christmas Eve, just four days after the gay studio filed a complaint against the BitTorrent defendant who was identified through his IP address.
Marc Randazza, Corbin Fisher’s general counsel, told XBIZ he knows of no other file-sharing settlement, porn or mainstream, that has reached this dollar high.
I think this is a dangerous turn of events for both the porn industry and for consumers. It was culturally damaging enough when music fans were turned into pirates by the industry they once supported, but with porn, that problem is amplified ten-fold. Now, not just criminality, but social stigma and shaming for consuming the very product the prosecuting party produces (porn) is being used as a stick to bully consumers into “paying up.”
The message is clear: pirate porn, and we’ll put your name as a porn-user in the court’s records.
Since I count a number of you in the industry among my friends, I’ll speak directly to you: take a lesson from the failed attempts of the RIAA to fight piracy this way. Your industry, if not your particular studio, is a huge prosecutor of copyright infringement. No matter what you think of piracy, it’s clear litigation is not a sustainable solution.
Further, the porn industry ought be careful with whom it gets into bed. It’s worth remembering that much of the same money used to “crack down” on Internet piracy, especially through BitTorrent, is the same money used to actively censor your work.
The non-erotic American entertainment conglomerates are the single strongest industry lobbying for draconian Internet censorship sanctions against anyone who infringes on their copyright. (ACTA is a prime example.) The technology that would enable these laws is the same technology that would censor your product from reaching your consumers. (See, for instance, COICA, also lobbied for by entertainment companies.) Not only is fighting piracy through litigation laughably ineffective, it directly employs Internet filters, legislative bans, and other restrictions on Internet access that your own industry front groups fight against.
I know that many of you do not have the money to hire copyright shakedown firms. But the mainstream porn producers who do have the money to hire lawyers for such lawsuit farces are not the people you, my feminist pornographer friends, should be cheering on. They are not on your side, no matter how pained your economic prospects in the industry have become.
Let us recall that feminist, queer, alternative, and independent pornographers and models, like indie musicians, are often helped (not hurt) by increased peer-to-peer distribution, the technological equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing. When you cozy up to the RIAA-like members of your own industry, you’re not only alienating your own consumers (as the RIAA have done), you’re also enabling the corrupt, civil liberties-destroying capitalistic enterprises to further empower entertainment groups like the MPAA to censor sexual expression.
Even if all you cared about was your bottom line, and I know that you care about a lot more than that, that kind of industry bedfellow should worry you plenty more than some pirate on BitTorrent masturbating to your image without paying you for the privilege because, next time there’s a lawsuit, it won’t be the consumer in the defendant’s chair. It’ll be the producer.