LOS ANGELES—ABC's Nightline surprised the adult industry (and likely everyone else) by airing a segment last night on porn piracy, and much of the meat of the piece focused on the company that reporter Cecilia Vega said "owns at least six of the top ten most popular tube sites in the world, [with] over 80 million visitors a day": MindGeek.
The segment's tone was set from the start, with Vega voicing-over scenes of performers on a Girlfriends Film set, announcing, "If there's one thing porn stars are known for, it's being comfortable on camera—except apparently when it comes to talking about one mysterious company."
Yep, she's referring to MindGeek, and the video cuts to two actresses, Jenna J Ross (here minus the "J") and Aaliyah Love, walking away from ABC's camera, with Love saying, "Yeah, I can't really say anything because I don't want them to ban me."
It's not until the segment is almost over that Vega admits, "MindGeek is legally in the clear because it's the users posting the clips, and MindGeek does take down pirated clips when asked," but there's plenty more MindGeek bashing to come.
The focus of the piece then switches to one of the industry's more high-profile members, actress/director/producer Tasha Reign, who talks about searching the internet to see where her content has been uploaded illegally—and when she finds it, she screen-grabs the image on the site and emails it to Nate Glass, owner of Takedown Piracy.
"An estimated 40 million Americans regularly look at online porn," Vega states, "and these days, their appetite is mostly being fed by free sites with names like PornHub, YouPorn, RedTube, known in the industry as tube sites."
Vega then explains how tube sites work, with visitors to the sites able to upload videos of just about anything, "but instead of cats and music," Vega says, "it's hardcore pornography, much of it pirated."
Of course, then it's time for some gratuitous nudity, with footage of Vega visiting the Girlfriends set and seeing free-spirited Jenna having no problem undressing in front of the reporter.
"I'll admit it took a while for me to get used to being on a porn set," Vega says.
"If I could be naked all the time, I would be," Jenna says ofhandedly.
"You're totally comfortable just like taking your clothes—like it doesn't even faze you?" the incredulous Vega asks.
"Oh, no, it doesn't even faze me," Jenna responds as she slips off her (blurred-out) undies.
"You didn't even realize you just did it and I'm like, 'she just took her pants off and we're talking!'" the apparently still-unbelieving reporter exclaims.
"If I could be naked all the time, I would," Jenna firmly repeats.
Then, returning to the real point of the piece, Vega notes that Jenna said she "sometimes goes weeks without getting work, and she blames piracy."
Cue the interview with Glass, whom she says has "declared war on the tube sites," but who's quick to point out, "I don't think I'm necessarily standing up for the rights of pornographers; I'm standing up for the rights, the same rights that you or anyone else has."
It's at that point that Tasha describes how she informs Glass of the pirated videos she finds—and coincidentally, this one's been posted on PornHub, to whom Glass sends his takedown notice.
"You send these emails to PornHub on a daily basis?" Vega asks.
"Oh, yeah," he replies.
"Multiple?" she presses.
"Many," he states. "In total—not just to PornHub—we've taken down 26 million and change."
But then Vega seeks to target the segment's focus.
"Is there one thing, one person, one company to blame?" she asks.
"I think you could put a lot of the blame on MindGeek," Glass answers hesitatingly.
Then, after Vega's voiceover notes that, "PornHub alone gets more daily visits than Netflix," Glass adds, "If you just looked at it from the outside, these guys don't look like really good guys."
Vega's voiceover adds more fuel to the fire, though, intoning, "Still, Glass says, the company is a scourge on the industry."
Of course, MindGeek is actually part of the industry, with Vega noting that they've created or bought, in "one of the biggest buying sprees in porn history ... several top studios," with an onscreen graphic showing Digital Playground, Twisty's and RK-TV (aka Reality Kings). And Vega seems puzzled, if they're so involved in pirated content, why anyone would want to shoot for them?
"Certain people have asked me why I'm being a hypocrite and working for them," Aaliyah recounts. "As a performer, boycotting these companies is not going to take any time, money or anything away from MindGeek because if I say no, there's a hundred other blondes that are willing to do it."
Even Tasha Reign admits they're one of the only games in town.
"It's like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, in a way," she says, "because if I want to shoot content, I kind of have to shoot for them, because that's the company that books me, because they own almost everything."
"For now, everybody in the industry seems to accept the new reality of porn," Vega admits, "knowing it's unlikely anyone will come to its rescue"—then giving InsideAdult.com owner Paul Fishbein one of the last words on that subject: "I think the irony is that the industry, which for 50 years fought the government on obscenity, wishes the government would get interested in this and try to shut down some of these tube sites."
Adult's real fight, of course, is with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows sites to host user-uploaded clips without liability even if the material is actually pirated—but perhaps that's a Nightline story for another day.
Perhaps it's worth noting, however, that not everyone thinks piracy is killing the industry. In a piece written by Farrell Timlake for Fleshbot.com, the Homegrown Video owner simultaneously attacks the idea that piracy is rampant and that the industry is losing money because of it.
"The truth is that there still is money in porn, just not for everyone, and not as much as you have been led to believe," Timlake asserts. "... Just like the industry inflated estimates of earnings, the estimates of decreases in earnings are also largely unsubstantiated hearsay, based largely on opinions of models that don’t get as much work as they used to, or paid referral website affiliates that have complained about not converting sales because there is too much free content available. The truth is that most stars and starlets in the porn biz cannot sustain enough interest to remain commercially viable.
"The money is still there," he later claims, adding, "Once my company, Homegrown Video, figured out how to play 'Moneyball' on the free porn tube site traffic, then we became more profitable online than ever... Free porn is actually not killing the industry. The ones that cannot profit from it secretly don’t want to admit that they cannot figure out to make money from it. In fact, I think free porn is making the industry more mainstream than ever, but keep that a secret… "
And so, the controversy continues with no end in sight—and fortunately, so far, so does the industry itself.