If you follow developments in piracy closely, then you know it’s almost constantly evolving. Content theft has become big business, with some prolific pirates actually making more (in some cases by a factor of 10) than the creative folks in our industry who actually produce the content originally. Sad, but true.
If FilesMonster’s statistics about their affiliates’ earnings are accurate, and we have every reason to believe that they are, then some people who are distributing content that does not belong to them are raking in an average of $7,500 or more a month. That’s a handsome annual income of $90,000 from just one account on one storage locker site.
Some people who are distributing content that does not belong to them are raking in an average of $7,500 or more a month.
Some pirates we chase use multiple lockers and accounts, so multiply that figure times five (conservatively) and you can quickly see that an annual income of almost half a million dollars is possible in this black market of illicit content distribution — while investing nothing but the cost of Internet access, a reasonable computer and the time it takes to upload content and promote it on various blogs, forums and bulletin boards until it gets picked up by Google and Bing.
There is the constant annoyance of people filing DMCA notices to deal with. So to remain on the right side of the law, the locker sites take the offending content down when it’s reported and the pirate repoints the links in his ads to a second, and then a third copy of the file he already uploaded and he’s back in business.
It’s pretty much the same as a supermarket restocking its shelves overnight – only it’s easier because he doesn’t need to lift and carry anything. The following morning the same items are back on sale again just as they were the previous day — different boxes of the same cereal in the case of the market, different copies of the same file in the case of our digital pirate.
Since these fringe players in adult have so much time on their hands (remember that they’re not hiring models, filing taxes forms, Xeroxing 2257 paperwork, shooting, editing and writing scene synopses,) some of them have become better marketers than the legitimate content producers from whom they “liberate” the video scenes they pedal illegally. Some of their blogs have readership numbers that the Huffington Post would envy.
And recently, they have begun selling legal advertising on their illegal blogs as a secondary income stream because the number of eyeballs they bring to the table are attractive to almost anyone selling almost anything, from e-cigarettes to Viagra.
We encountered one such prolific pirate about a year ago. He was stealing our clients’ content like crazy, replacing copies faster than we could get them removed, even posting new updates within an hour of them going public legally. We opened a line of communication with him, asked him nicely to curb his activities, and he refused. We asked again, and he refused again. We asked a third time and he cut off communication completely.
Feeling as though we had right and the law on our side, we appealed to his payment processors who eventually cut off their relationships with him. He moved to new processors overnight. We appealed to the new processors and eventually they cancelled his accounts too, and again he found new processors based in more remote countries, and that went on for a month or more until he moved to taking payment in Bitcoins and no longer needed to take credit cards at all.
Then we began to talk to his advertisers. Some of them were reluctant to take action but eventually they saw that their ad placements were supporting illegal activity and they withdrew. He continued to steal and post content. We appealed to his ISP who was based in the U.S. (Virginia, as I recall) and we contacted the domain registrar who sold him his domain and who had very explicit terms of service that prohibited illegal distribution of third-party content, but domain registrars notoriously play a shell game where the actual sale of the domain is accomplished by an affiliate who buys blocks of server space. Tracking that seller down is next to impossible. We think that’s purposeful.
It’s sometimes discouraging when you really dive deep into how money and access are traded online and you find that even the largest most reputable companies turn a blind eye to illegal activity if they can possibly do so and claim that their hands are clean. Publicly, they do not condone, and they do not support piracy. But neither do they actively work toward curbing it. There is simply too much money to be made around the edges. So they hold their noses and cash the checks.
Our first big break came when this guy posted a video of himself on a couple of tube sites.
I make no judgment on anyone’s sexual preferences. I’ve been doing what I do too long to believe that some sex acts are acceptable while others are perverse. The whole idea of “normal” expands in our industry to accept pretty much any activity that includes consent of the parties involved. And any solo act that’s undertaken without duress is pretty much within the mainstream of porn these days. This particular pirate was interested in posing with large toys…. fondling them, caressing them and ultimately inserting them “where the sun don’t shine.” Pretty.
And he was so proud of his home video that he used his real name and promoted the scene on his piracy blog so all of his readers could enjoy and share in his special pleasure.
His name led us to his Facebook page, which contained information about his younger brother’s Facebook page, which contained information about his brother’s recent graduation from high school, including pictures of his mother and family friends and various tags and “likes” by some of them that led to his mother’s Facebook page, which included her employer in the Bronx, her professional association and more.
It only took us a few minutes to track down her office address. Social media is very powerful. And combined with Google maps we even secured a visual on this pirate’s apartment building, his mother’s office and much, much more.
We had already done everything we could think of to bring down his operation — from asking politely, to reporting him to all of his support systems, to making it extremely difficult for him to monetize this theft. And finally we had a break because he began to feel like he had won and he let his guard down long enough to make a small mistake and reveal just enough about his real life for us to hang him by the rope that he himself provided.
I sat down one afternoon (I remember it was a Sunday) and I composed a carefully worded letter to his mother, outlining all of his illegal activities, including links to the videos he posted of himself and a few select screen shots of his blog posts that contained the most graphic content imaginable. My letter was not long. I wrote it “from one parent to another.”
I explained everything he had been doing that was against the law, and I said that if this young man did not immediately stop what he was doing that caused the adult industry such damage, I was going to file a lawsuit in New York state and his activities would be brought to light in detail, in open court.
I didn’t send the letter to his mother. Instead, I sent the letter destined for his mother to him as an email attachment and I told him that if he did not comply with the law within 72 hours, I would send her the letter the following Wednesday. And furthermore, I said I would move forward with the lawsuit in New York the following week.
I had our attorneys review the letter and they suggested I remove language that threatened him directly and allow the text to state simply what I was planning to do — leaving the probable result entirely to his imagination. Of course, as Alfred Hitchcock taught all of us, the horrific acts built in our imagination are always far more shocking that those we might carefully describe or actually witness.
Within two hours, his blog was down for repairs. When it went back up a few days later, it had been scrubbed of all the infringing content it previously contained. This pirate continued to flirt with theft and illegal distribution of copyrighted material for several months, but when we saw him cross the line and we notified him, he would immediately capitulate. His incriminating personal videos came down and have not gone back up.
He still nibbles around the edges of content theft, but he no longer inflicts damage on the industry in any serious way. It was a long battle, but he’s finally been hobbled. And that feels good.
Peter Phinney runs Piracy Stops Here with business partner Dominic Ford. The company offers a full suite of antipiracy services to the adult industry and currently represents more than 400 individual brands across all content niches.