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Does the Porn Industry Have Ethical Business Practices?

If the porn industry was held accountable for their illicit and unethical business practices, would there be any industry left?

By October 21, 2021No Comments
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Many industries in our global economy have at some point in their existence cut corners to make a profit. Initially, it’s overlooked or hidden for a time and then exposed as consumers rightfully ask for better.

For example, only since the early 90’s did people start asking about the ethics of the clothing industry. Brands were pushed to show more transparency about their business practices—particularly labor policies—which sparked a revolution of people all over the world asking #whomademyclothes?

But not every household-known industry receives as much scrutiny and global attention toward its unethical business practices.

The porn industry, for example, is infamous for its lack of transparency regarding business practices.

Shira Tarrant, a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Cal State Long Beach, said official records are hard to come by. When the studio system reigned more than 10 years ago, it was at least easier to track the numbers of DVDs and magazines sold even though many productions weren’t keeping official records. The issue has only worsened since internet porn has taken over, making official numbers and tracking difficult to track.

Related: How The Internet Is Killing The Porn Industry

Beyond looking for numbers, the business of porn relies on other concerning behaviors that we do know from investigations and personal accounts from performers.

They give consumers and the general public solid reasons to believe the porn industry is one that needs a spotlight to sweep out those shady corners, so we’ll start with the most basic.

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Uncovering the company that owns mainstream porn

It was estimated in 2015 that the porn industry is worth about $97 billion dollars. Did you know the bulk of the porn industry is owned and operated by one company?

To truly take a look at the ethics and business practices of the porn industry as it is today, one has to consider the company that owns and operates much of what is understood to be the mainstream industry—MindGeek.

MindGeek is the Montreal-based parent company of some of the biggest websites and companies in the porn industry, including Pornhub, YouPorn, and RedTube, and more, and has faced media and public scrutiny after the publication of an article in The New York Times in December 2020 that exposed nonconsensual content on MindGeek’s biggest site, Pornhub.

Related: 13 Times MindGeek Executives Reportedly Didn’t Tell The Full Truth To Canadian Lawmakers

As a result of the exposure of reported child exploitation and trafficking videos on Pornhub, MindGeek announced dramatic site security changes in December 2020, including suspending all content from unverified users and prohibiting user video downloads from Pornhub.

MindGeek has been criticized for appearing to make these changes not out of concern for victims of sexual abuse but in fear of losing Visa and Mastercards’ services (which they eventually did lose).

Past statements from MindGeek have reportedly previously called the accusations of sexual exploitation “conspiracy theories” or allegedly said they were “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue” and denied the existence of abusive material on their adult sites. Yet several outletsincluding us, have confirmed instances of reported sexual abuse and underage material on Pornhub.

To examine MindGeek’s seemingly questionable business practices, we first have to talk about the basics of how the porn industry makes money today when so much content is free.

A porn tube site (modeled after YouTube) accepts payment from a subscription-based site to post an ad that redirects to their homepage. When a consumer subscribes, the tube also takes a cut of the commission. And since many of the tube sites, and subscription sites, are owned by MindGeek, it’s like double advertising opportunity for them and double profit.

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Since MindGeek is very secretive about its business practices, we have to turn to statements made by the company’s leadership to understand the inner workings of the company that owns and operates much of the mainstream porn industry.

In the aftermath of MindGeek’s exposure of reportedly profiting from nonconsensual content, Feras Antoon, CEO of MindGeek Canada, and David Tassillo, Chief Operations Officer, answered questions from Canadian MPs in February 2021, and stated that they would like to “stand behind what people see on the site,” because those are their real words and actions. They also claimed MindGeek does not profit from nonconsensual content.

But is that the best claim for a company to make that’s being investigated for illegal content found on their sites?

During the February 2021 hearing, the executives revealed that roughly 50% of MindGeek’s revenues come from advertisements on their sites. Their claim of not profiting from illicit material would mean there would need to be zero ads positioned on the same page as such videos; however, it has been reported in the past that ads have been present next to abusive content.

Related: Porn Tube Sites Are Free, So How Does The Porn Industry Make Money Today?

When pressed, Antoon or Tassillo said they did not know if MindGeek has received money from specific cases of nonconsensual content.

Keep in mind that MindGeek is currently facing at least two class-action lawsuits, a $600 million suit in Canada on behalf of victims as far back as 2007 and another in the US.

The plaintiff from the Canada case was reportedly notified of a video of herself being abused on Pornhub as recently as 2019 and requested its removal in 2020, but only ever received an automated response.

The two Jane Does in the US suit are survivors of child sex trafficking, and videos of their abuse were reportedly uploaded to MindGeek sites who allegedly profited from their specific videos. The suit claims MindGeek at no point attempted to verify the identification or age of the victims.

When examining the porn industry’s business practices, these egregious actions of porn sites reportedly profiting from illicit content do not paint a picture of upstanding business ethics.

To learn about other alleged unethical business practices by MindGeek, read this article.

Uncovering the production side of the industry

So the corporate business practices of the porn industry don’t seem that upstanding, but what about on the production side of things?

Isn’t content created by official porn production companies and uploaded to well-known, mainstream sites more reliably ethical and consensual?

In an effort to soothe consumers’ worries about nonconsensual content and absolve the producers of liability, some porn production companies film “exit interviews” where the performers confirm whether they consented to everything that was filmed. But even these supposed confirmations of consent have proven to be deeply problematic.

Related Is It Healthier Or More Ethical To Watch Porn If You Pay For It?

While exit interviews are presumably filmed after production has wrapped up, they are often filmed before the performers are paid. Even if they’ve already been paid, the guarantee that they’ll be booked for future jobs in the industry often depends on not “being difficult” or saying something they experienced was abusive, since production companies cannot use the footage if a performer states they were assaulted or abused. With their paychecks and careers hanging over the performers’ heads, and surrounded by a production crew, it is not uncommon for porn performers to lie in their exit interviews.

As one performer put it, “I was severely abused on set a few times… and had to say on camera at the end [that] I was fine. In fact, one time I said, ‘no, I am not okay,’ and they screamed at me that I couldn’t say that and get paid.”Fight the New Drug. (2021). Not all porn is consensual. Don’t believe it? just ask these performers.. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/these-performers-expose-abuse-consent-issues-on-porn-set/COPY 

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One common argument in defense of porn is that professional performers are all “consenting adults” who “love their jobs.” But unfortunately, that is virtually impossible to guarantee.

In the porn industry, the lines between abuse and consent are so blurred, that there’s no viable way to tell the difference. Performers can be coerced into participating and into lying about their experiences on set, and consumers wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell the difference even if they were watching something nonconsensual. Is it any wonder that if a performer has already been abused or pushed too far during filming, they might be afraid of inciting further abuse or industry scorn by speaking out?

For many performers, it doesn’t get easier as they continue. Since the rise of the porn tube sites, both male and female actors are under increasing pressure to perform increasingly hardcore scenes. This is not necessarily because work opportunities are slim (though less extreme content is becoming more passé). It’s because there is an endless amount of content to compete against.

Unfortunately, abuse in the porn industry is incredibly pervasive. Competition is tough everywhere in the business world, but it’s unethical and unsafe the way performers are often coerced to perform.

Related: How The Porn Industry Profits From Nonconsensual Content And Abuse

And when you look closely, you will find that there is virtually no formal system for reporting and addressing that abuse in a way that holds abusers accountable while keeping performers safe. What’s worse? Those who do publicly report or speak out about abuse are often blacklisted, threatened, dismissed, or further abused.Lange, A. (2018). This woman says authorities doubted her sexual assault claim because she does porn. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/arianelange/nikki-benz-porn-defamation-lawsuit-metoo#.ldPVz1Yg0YCOPY Clark-Flory, T. (2018). Porn actors Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon allege abuse, violence, and boundary violation on set. Jezebel. Retrieved from https://jezebel.com/porn-actors-leigh-raven-and-riley-nixon-allege-abuse-v-1823677195COPY  Plus, many performers struggle to find work outside of the porn industry due to the stigma of being a former porn performer. Performers are punished inside of and out of the industry, the accused perpetrators walk free, and the cycle continues.

Of course, we’re not claiming that all porn contains abuse or nonconsensual content. But in order for consumers to make informed decisions regarding porn, we think it’s important to point out that some pornographic content isn’t consensual—and it’s virtually impossible to guarantee which is which.

“Many female performers suffer through coercion and inappropriate behavior on set and on screen,” female porn producer Erika Lust wrote for iNews. “No, not all [porn performers] are victims, but many are.” And even one victim is one too many.

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We can do better

Ethically-minded companies generally hold themselves accountable for the way their products are produced and the effects their products have on their customers. There’s usually a toll-free number on the back of any given product that you can buy at the grocery store, providing a way to give feedback to companies or file complaints about their product.

But not porn. The porn industry instead puts an emphasis on profits and ignores responsibility for the harm caused to society and consumers in the process.

Related: How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

In other words, not only is the porn industry a shady business, but their care for their consumers is based on how long a person watches and what they click on, not their wellbeing.

If the large tube sites were concerned, perhaps they would make it more difficult for underage viewers to access their content. But it is widely known how simple it is for anyone—no matter their age—to find hardcore porn online, whether on purpose or by accident. Stories of young exposure are not unique.

Our general society expects more from other industries, so why should porn be pushed aside and given a free pass when it, too, needs to be held accountable?

If they were actually held accountable for their illicit and unethical business practices, would there be any industry left?

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