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Anonymous, we respectfully dissent (A defense of Porn's Antipiracy push)

But not when it comes to attacking porn companies.

By Randazza & DeVoy

Over the years, we’ve been keenly aware of the *Chan websites’ user base and their exploits.  From 4Chan, 7Chan, 7-11Chan, 420Chan and especially /b/ and /i/, we’ve laughed and cheered as a teeming mass of faceless internet users upended society.  They’ve collectively brought animal torturers to justice; rigged the voting on Dancing with the Stars; exploited the voting mechanism for Time’s Person of the Year so they could elect 4Chan’s creator, Chris Poole, as the winner; attempted to send Justin Bieber to perform a concert in North Korea; confronted and embarrassed the Church of Scientology; created the entire lolcats genre; gave us memegenerator; bombed Youtube with porn; and generally been the cyber police’s most wanted.

Like many friends, though, we do have a disagreement with Anonymous with one issue in particular.  It’s no secret that Anonymous is upset with the slash-and-burn litigation wrought by the RIAA and MPAA, and has launched DDoS attacks against the MPAA for its anti-piracy tactics.  While not condoning these actions, we certainly understand them – everyone is pissed about the ham-handed way in which these suits have been handled.  But to launch a DDoS attack on Hustler, as Anonymous recently did, because it’s pursuing lawsuits against infringers is overreaching — the adult entertainment industry is materially different from the recording and movie industries, and warrants different treatment.

First, Anonymous is a large and amorphous group.  Its members subscribe to the credo of NYPA – Not Your Personal Army – and we have reason to believe that the full force of Anonymous was not behind the Hustler Denial of Service attack.  The best indication of broader disengagement was that the attack was not successful.  But, as content piracy continues to grind at pornography’s profitability like a millstone, further anti-piracy litigation is inevitable.

The adult entertainment industry is a collection of many smaller companies without a monolithic trade group to represent its economic interests in court and before congress.  While the Free Speech Coalition and ASACP are trade organizations representing the industry’s principles and a subset of their legal interests, there is no equivalent of the MPAA, RIAA or even a BMI/ASCAP-type entity to bankroll sector-wide anti-piracy endeavors.  This eliminates the cost-spreading structure that allowed the RIAA and now MPAA to ruthlessly pursue thousands of litigants for years, and the adult entertainment industry is left with individual studios acting alone to enforce their copyrights against the most egregious pirates.

In 2000, right when online piracy became a huge issue, Courtney Love gave an eloquent defense of file sharing, essentially backing up the argument that a lot of online copyright thieves employ — that when you steal music online, you’re not really stealing from the little guy musician, you’re stealing from the fat pig record companies. With that, we agree. While that doesn’t make it any less illegal or any less of a theft, it does add a certain dose of a moral authority to the argument that sharing music online doesn’t actually hurt any worthy parties. (We are not entirely persuaded of that, but we respect the argument).

When it comes to porn companies, while the entire industry brings in a couple billion dollars a year, it is by no means as large as many people like to think. Forbes breaks it down here. But, when you cut up that porn pie, you will see that many of the slices are diet sized. Given the niche nature of porn, most porn DVD titles sell only a thousand or so units. When you rip off a Metallica song, you may contribute to a large aggregate loss for the record company, but your individual theft doesn’t really change the record label’s bottom line. When you steal a single porn movie, you may have stolen a significant portion of that movie’s sales. And that’s when you steal from the companies that crank out DVDs, which tend to be the larger producers.

When you talk about internet-based porn, aside from a handful of market leaders, most internet porn companies are smaller businesses than your local Chipotle franchise, and they are often run by the very people on screen. When you steal Mission Impossible, it doesn’t really take much money from Tom Cruise. When you steal porn, very likely it will have an immediate and measurable negative impact on the actor, director, and publisher. With the current degree of online piracy, most adult studios’ profits are down 60%. Though hardly poor, they lack the resources to pursue every instance of infringement solely to make a point.

Even if hunting every nominal copyright infringer to the ends of the earth was feasible, it seems unlikely that this industry would do so.  Unlike movies and music, porn lends itself to a smaller, self-sustaining and closely knit community.  While it studies what sells and what doesn’t – films without condoms sell better than those that use them, for instance – it doesn’t have an army of Harvard- and Wharton-educated MBAs reducing consumers to numbers in an excel spreadsheet, trying to part them with their money at every opportunity.  This informal system of checks and balances will keep studios from going after grandmothers and 12-year-olds who shared files on accident, unlike the RIAA.  Don’t be deceived by Larry Flynt’s badass gold wheelchair — the people who create adult content often do it to serve principles more important than profitability.

Without being too Randian, though, producers and studios are in the business to make a profit.  While they may not have a laser-like focus on the bottom line like other businesses do, it is still the reason they stay in business; indeed, revenues and profits are needed to keep their employees employed and owners content with their investment.  While there will always be an adult entertainment industry, the risk of losing substantial chunks of it is great; in addition to losing diverse and high-quality content, the rest of society will miss out on the technological advancements that have been driven by pornography for the last several decades.

Weighing social and technological advances together, the adult industry’s impact on American culture has been second only to NASA.  In the 1980s, porn’s choice of VHS over Sony’s Betamax ended the format war.  In the 1990s, pornography was at the spearhead of internet development both in terms of technology and business models, designing affiliate programs and billing services at the same time it pushed for video, audio, and more efficient photo services. If you watch any video online, thank the porn industry. In fact, if you use the world wide web, thank the porn industry. While porn didn’t invent the internet, it certainly acted as the amniotic sac for the fetal Web.

This trend has not slowed.  The adult film industry swiftly adopted the now-dominant BluRay media format, ensuring its viability and winning the war against HD-DVD.  Ironically, this helped Sony’s format win, after doing the opposite decades earlier.  Porn has also been instrumental in transcending format wars with video on demand (VOD) technology.  Vudu, an early VOD service that offered a channel catering to adult entertainment, was recently acquired by Walmart and forced to end its adult offerings. And don’t even get us started about sexbots.

Culturally, the trends found in porn are generally mirrored in real life, albeit with a slightly delayed reaction time.  A good proxy for these changes can be found in the pages of Playboy, roughly represented at this inappropriate-for-most-workplaces link.  Or, just compare what you’re used to seeing with the images at Retrotic (yet another site most employers would not appreciate you visiting).  As of 2006, more than half of all women in a study conducted on behalf of Vagisil reported engaging in some form of pubic hair maintenance, whether trimming (25%), partially shaving (23%) or fully shaving (9%) what they have.  In keeping with the sexually active, porn-consuming audience, this trend was more common among women aged 18-44 than women 45+ years old.

Another trend where life imitates art: Anal sex.  The number of heterosexual people who try – and regularly perform – anal sex is way up.  The numbers compiled from the national sex survey speak for themselves:

In 1992, 16 percent of women aged 18-24 said they’d tried anal sex. Now 20 percent of women aged 18-19 say they’ve done it, and by ages 20-24, the number is 40 percent. In 1992, the highest percentage of women in any age group who admitted to anal sex was 33. In 2002, it was 35. Now it’s 46. (source.)

[The number of women in their 20s and 30s who have had anal sex in the past year has doubled since 1992] to more than 20 percent, and one-third of these women say they’ve done it in the last month. Among all women surveyed, the number who reported anal sex in their most recent sexual encounter was 3 percent to 4 percent. (source.)

The result of all this is increased pleasure — for her!  Among women who had anal sex in their last encounter, 94% reached orgasm, compared to only 81% for women who received oral sex.  All of this data is self-reported, and may be unreliable on that basis, but that unreliability – a desire to look better, more chaste and moral, less kinky and so on – seems like it would resolve in higher-than-reported numbers for women who have engaged in and enjoyed this activity, which was largely planted in the public psyche by pornography.

The net result of adult entertainment’s viability as an industry has been an undercurrent towards faster, higher quality and more widely accessible technology.  Every other sector has benefited from the accessibility and ubiquity that adult entertainment has sought to achieve, given its patrons’ frequent need for discretion.  Culturally, people are experimenting more and, as the data above suggest, enjoying themselves more as well.  Not to say that people are uncreative on their own, but the adult entertainment industry gives them ideas, whether for technology, business or physical activities, that they may not have thought of on their own, and that entrenched interests like film and music companies have no interest to develop.

To those who say that “the model needs to change,” you’re right.  That’s why the adult entertainment industry has constantly been in a state of flux, and has material available in print, on DVD, and online.  This has also been a major reason why the industry has not been able to establish trade cabals like the RIAA and MPAA.  The common thread of the industry, and reason for its existence, is original content — content that is copyrighted and entitled to a range of legal protections.  All of the structural change in the world will not alter the fact that a right to produce and protect original content is at the core of adult entertainment; it is the industry’s sole commodity, like coal, oil or copper, that derives value by virtue of its relative scarcity.  Content producers want you to have access to it on your phone, computer and television, but legally, and can only advance the technology required for this goal if they have the money to research and perfect it.

People are free to dislike pornography and choose not to buy it.  They can keep strip clubs and video stores out of their cushy suburbs if they can convincingly show that it will increase crime and harm property values.  But in light of the progress it has stimulated, does anyone really want to imagine a world without it?  If all of the major studios were to shut down tomorrow, there would still be more porn around than any one person could need in his or her lifetime, but that’s not the point.  As an inexorable force for technological and social change, porn is intrinsically valuable, and its producers have to defend their ability to stay viable – and even profitable – for the rest of us to benefit from its existence.  Nobody likes to be sued, or to pay a settlement of several thousand dollars, but widespread piracy has destabilized an entire industry, and one that has worked to be rather versatile, as opposed to the recording and movie industries’ desperate grip on decades-old models of distribution.

Retaliation against adult content producers amounts to fighting the wrong enemy.  They aren’t the ones trying to take your house or ruin your lives.  They aren’t pursuing scorched-earth litigation to prove a point.  They’ve just seen that piracy is jeopardizing their continued ability to make the contributions they have to our economy, technological abundance, and own curiosity.  Ultimately, attempts to hurt the industry are counterproductive, and you’re merely pointing the gun at yourself.

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