Court to force adult site to expose ‘pirating’ users

A California court is forcing Pornhub – the vastest porn site on the porn-stuffed internet – to expose the names, IP addresses, phone numbers and viewing history of users who’ve uploaded pirated videos.

Pornhub’s been given a deadline of May 1.

The company is no stranger to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) takedown requests. Its parent companies, Mansef Productions and Interhub, were sued in 2010 for copyright infringement of 95 videos produced by the porn production house Pink Visual.

As Forbes reported at the time, the suit didn’t pull any punches when it came to describing the way that Pornhub and other YouTube-like porn sites that run on videos uploaded by users – known as “Tube sites” – are ripping off the adult entertainment industry.

They’re the Napster of the adult film world, the suit said:

These Tube Sites maintain the fiction that they offer a forum for consumers to upload and share their own original “user-generated” adult video content; however in reality, they function as repositories for an extensive collection of infringing adult videos.

The settlement terms for that 2010 case weren’t disclosed, with the exception of this: the parties agreed that Pornhub would implement digital fingerprinting on all its sites.

That’s certainly a sound approach: it’s the one that’s used to locate child abuse imagery. Digital hash values are how companies – including Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo – sniff out that type of illegal content.

The hash values, which, in the case of child abuse, are provided by ISPs, enable such companies to check large volumes of files for matches without those companies themselves having to keep copies of offending images or to pry open people’s private messages.

So why, if Pornhub implemented digital fingerprinting after that 2010 settlement, are we now looking at a subpoena – a huge subpoena, 91 pages long – that lists more than 1,000 copies of pirated videos produced by Foshan Ltd?

I reached out to Pornhub to ask. I’ll update the story if anybody gets back to me.

Here’s the subpoena. Issued at the end of March, it’s fairly broad: it compels Pornhub to hand over all the information it has available on the uploaders, including names, email addresses, IP addresses, user and posting histories, physical addresses, telephone numbers, and any other identifying or account information.

Take note: the video titles, starting on page 3, are very NSFW!

As it is, the presence of all this pirated material fits into a pattern of Pornhub acting reactively instead of proactively on copyright infringement, according to those in the industry.

According to Torrent Freak, Pornhub claims it “[Takes] claims of copyright infringement seriously.” It has a content takedown request site that directs copyright complaints over to or to a DMCA takedown request form.

Pornhub has also said that it reserves the right to terminate the accounts of repeat infringers, according to TorrentFreak, which quoted the company:

Responses may include removing, blocking or disabling access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity, terminating the user’s access to [Pornhub], or all of the foregoing.

But that’s all a bit disingenuous, according to sex blogger, journalist and “#sextech enthusiast” Girl on the Net (GOTN).

GOTN has spoken to Pornhub about what she considers a parallel issue to that of piracy: that of racism. Pornhub does have a policy against racism, just like it has a policy forbidding copyright infringement. But are the anti-racism and anti-piracy policies worth the pixels they take up on its site?

In order to get content taken down, “people have to report a specific video”, GOTN said. There doesn’t appear to be any technology in place to automagically churn through piles of porn like there is with child abuse imagery, at least not that’s obvious from a user perspective (or from the perspective of there being more than 1,000 pirated videos from just one single production company on the site).

It doesn’t have to be that way: other sites have monitoring policies in place, GOTN noted. Pornhub isn’t doing much to fight it, she said:

Any site that’s running on the free Tube model, where users can upload their own content, is always going to have a certain level of pirated material. Even if the sites don’t strictly encourage it – or have terms that forbid it – the fact remains that they have created a model that gives users an expectation that porn is (or should be) free.

And here’s another thing: why are the pirating Pornhub users being pursued, as opposed to the vast, lucrative porn behemoth that is Pornhub?

Sure, those users are uploading pirated videos, GOTN said, and that’s wrong. Users are stealing subscription funding from the porn producers who should rightfully be compensated for their work.

But isn’t Pornhub the one to go after? After all, it’s the mechanism that enables all this piracy. GOTN:

I’m surprised that users are being pursued instead of Pornhub itself. Obviously, they shouldn’t be uploading pirated content … but effectively, I feel [that Pornhub] is contributing so much to the free porn model, [they should be a prime target for DCMA action].