Just the mere mention of a new celebrity sex tape makes search-engine optimization specialists and webmasters start running for their laptops to gobble up keywords and look for an affiliate program that will pay the big bucks.
But what most of those SEO people and webmasters don't realize is that by getting involved with one of these tapes or websites that showcase a celebrity sex tape, they are taking on risks and liabilities that will affect their businesses as well as themselves.
Sometimes that risk may turn out to be quite fruitful, while in other cases it can mean bankruptcy and business failure at the hands of some over-zealous attorney who represents the celebrity involved.
Back in 1996, we were shocked and amazed to learn that Internet Entertainment Group (or IEG as it was once known on the Internet), had acquired the now infamous Pam and Tommy Lee sex tape through a connection who had stolen it from the couple's home in Malibu. The tape gave us a very up close and personal view of the famous couple as they honeymooned in St. Bart's.
On Seth Warshavsky
What was unique about that event was that the owner of IEG, the one-time web wunderkind Seth Warshavsky, had never planned to air the tape. While he was fully expecting to hear from the Lees' legal representation, something really strange happened — he heard nothing. Eventually, Warshavsky decided to air the tape anyway.
Warshavsky had never planned on airing the footage of the two celebrity lovebirds, but he felt that by going to the media and telling the world that he had the tape of the century, he could attract a lot of media attention to his website, Clublove.com.
What he didn't bargain for was the amount of emails he would receive from people who were willing to join the site or who wanted to buy the rights to the tape.
The Pam and Tommy Lee tape is an exception to the rule but not the norm when it comes to these kinds of tapes. For starters, the couple never reported the contents of their safe missing, making it difficult to prove they were burglarized and that the tape was acquired illegally. One can speculate that maybe the couple had other "taboo" things in their safe that weren't legal to possess, or that they simply didn't recall the fact that the honeymoon tape was in it. What we do know as fact was that Pam and Tommy Lee grew very tired of fighting with Warshavsky, and that eventually Warshavsky was granted permission to air the tape for one four-hour period on a certain date. The Lees allegedly signed off on the paperwork and IEG was now known as the purveyor of the Pam and Tommy Lee tape.
Did Warshavsky live up to his end of the bargain? Did he show the tape for his allotted four hours that day? Not exactly. Warshavsky went seeking a video deal and later found one. Realizing that there were so many copies of the tape pirated already from Warshavsky's web venture, and also realizing that Pamela Anderson was the hottest blonde bombshell to hit the scene since Marilyn Monroe, both Warshavsky and the video company he partnered with knew they had a real winner on their hands.
Some industry watchers estimate that the video initially sold close to a million copies, while others tend to disagree. What we do know is that this tape opened up a real Pandora's Box in 1996 and would change the landscape of the industry for the next eight years.
While the Lees fought vigorously to get paid and have the video permanently pulled off shelves, Warshavsky amassed a quiet fortune.
Eventually Pamela and Tommy Lee won a settlement from IEG for nearly $4 million. They have still never seen a penny of the proceeds because Warshavsky got bored playing millionaire in Seattle and decided to journey off to Thailand, avoiding prosecution as well as paying restitution to the Lees.
Warshavsky was about 23 years old when he became the "Bill Gates" of the adult Internet, a staggering feat for such a young man. But what was also incredible about this feat was that millions of people downloaded the clip off 56k connections. I vividly recall people going to sleep at night downloading the movie, hoping to awaken and view the full tape before shuffling off to work.
Jumping forward seven years to November 2003, I received a phone call from a company called Marvad, a Seattle-based company that had just launched a new website called Sexbrat.com. Having never heard of the website before, I was very interested in seeing what they had to offer. After viewing naked pictures of Amber Frey, the alleged other woman in the Scott Peterson case, and a nude video of Dr. Laura Schlesinger, the radio show host, I knew this website was about exposing "celebrity type" video and pictures in the style and fashion of Warshavsky.
What was even more ironic was the fact that the owners of Sexbrat.com were at one time friends with Warshavsky. I was told that Marvad had a new video they wanted to show and that there would be a lot of people wanting to see it. Of course my curiosity got the best of me and after signing my life away with confidentiality agreements, I was told they had acquired a sex tape of the hotel heiress Paris Hilton.
When I finally took the time to digest all of this information and did my due diligence on Hilton's background, the first thing I said to the purveyors of this porn site was, "Aren't you guys scared her family will come after you? They have unlimited resources financially."
My colleagues at the time felt very certain that wouldn't happen. I was told they had acquired the tape legally through Hilton exbeau Rick Salomon's then-roommate Donald Thrasher. I was then told that I would be the messenger and my job was to go out and get as much press as I could to draw people to the website Sexbrat.com. Marvad's legal representation also had me convinced that one cannot shoot the "messenger," and that Us Weekly magazine and "Entertainment Tonight" both had excerpts from the tape and were very curious about how it was acquired and whether it was sent to them to start a bidding war or to garner national attention. The answer was a little of both.
What happened next was incredible. Marvad was hit by legal paperwork in every direction. Salomon filed a $10 million lawsuit claiming that the site never had permission to show or disseminate the tape and that it was stolen from his home without his knowledge. Marvad was then hit with papers from the Hilton attorneys threatening a $10 million lawsuit if the tape was shown.
This triggered Marvad's attorneys to then sue Donald Thrasher for misrepresentation of the tape they had acquired from him for $50,000, plus a third of the backend profits.
Eventually Marvad agreed last November to never air the tape and to destroy any copies they had of it, and Paris signed off saying she would not sue Marvad. However, the damage had been done. The tape's contents were leaked onto the web by the aforementioned media outlets, setting off a firestorm that would become the biggest sex scandal since Monica Lewinsky fellated President Clinton in the Oval Office.
The tape quickly became larger than life and even provided fodder for Jay Leno and David Letterman's opening monologues for weeks to come. In reaction, Salomon's attorneys went on a rampage.
So why did this happen? Well, there was a chain reaction of sorts when the tape was "ill gained." Two very important facts came to the forefront of this case, the first being the use of Rights of Publicity. ROP simply means that no one can use the name or likeness of an individual without the proper documentation in place. In other words, the only people allowed the use of the name Paris Hilton for any promotional purpose is Paris Hilton herself.
The second problem that faced Marvad was the fact that the Hiltons claimed that their daughter was underage at the time the video was produced, saying she had to be under the age of 18, which as we already know is a very sensitive subject in the adult community. No one wants to touch a tape that may be considered child pornography.
But since there were no 2257 papers filed and no model releases made, this tape was almost impossible to distribute. Knowing this information firsthand, Marvad then changed its game plan from a marketing perspective.
"We have agreed to never show the tape or disseminate the tape in any way, shape or form" became my new cadence after already appearing on more than 166 media outlets across the globe.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 with a look at celeb traffic and Larry Flynt...
Kevin Blatt is currently working on a book about celebrity sex tapes. His consulting business, KB Consulting, is centered around exposing or promoting adult-oriented products to the mainstream press. He also represents Mensniche.