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Interview with Robert King, aka AdultKing

Interview with Robert King, aka AdultKing

The following interview was conducted Monday, July 9, 2012. We thought it might be of interest to readers to provide a transcript of the interview. A separate article on AdultKing's progress in his campaign to get processors to stop working with digital file lockers is here. ___________________________________________________________________________

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I'm sorry to say I don't know much about your history. Can you talk a little about your history online and also in adult?

Sure thing. My introduction to the adult industry was when I became involved in the premium telephone services market in Australia in 1989. At that time, there was no internet in Australia to speak of, so you either had phone sex or brothels. I worked for a start-up premium service provider called Informatel, based in Melbourne. It was the first such provider to be licensed. We quickly found that there was a huge niche for gay and straight dating services, and dial-up recorded sex stories and the like. When we started, there wasn't even a way to do live lines, but by 1991 live connections had become available and that's when things really took off.

The company I worked for started with $5,000 and within a year was doing $3 million a year in revenue, and much of that was from the dating services.

While I was working at informatel, I realized there was a whole market out there I didn't fully understand, so I started working some of the gay dating businesses, especially one called Gay Pink Link, developing their telephone presence on bulletin boards. We set up gay and straight bulletin boards where people could dial up through a modem to looks at pictures and chat in chatrooms and things like that.

1994 came about, and I was already interested in gaining access to the internet, but there was no way to do it. Unless you went to university, internet wasn't available in Australia. There was no commercial services in 1994. So a group of computer geeks such as myself started a organization called Pubnet, which soon changed its name to APANA, which was shorthand for the Australian Public Access Networking Association. APANA as a group collectively gathered resources to install in Melbourne a 64-bit IDSN link to a university internet hub, and from there we connected our own routers, and from there connected modems that were permanent connections to our members.

Initially, it was in Melbourne, but within a year we had internet hubs in every state in the country, and it just exploded. In that time, [Wikileaks founder] Julian Assange and I used to hang out. He ran an APANA node called Suburbia, and people could dial in through his node and access the internet. APANA was a non-profit organization, so while we could charge people for access, we couldn't do anything commercial through the network. Nobody drew a salary, it was all voluntary, and money that was raised went into paying for the hardware, which was expensive at the time.

In 1995, APANA moved its internet connection to a company called Connect.com, and we upgraded from 64 kilobits to 128 kilobits.

How many members did you have?

At the peak of APANA, there would have been about 5,000 members across Australia, but only a couple hundred of them had permanent connections.

Was there any government oversight at that time?

The government didn't have as grip on the internet at all. There were no government websites; there was just nothing. But in 1995, when APANA changed its connection to Connect.com, I obtained my own permanent internet connection to the internet, which was 128 kilobits in its own right, and I launched a porn website called pix.com.au, and another porn website called teenager.com.au.

Pix.com.au offered adult mail order, phone sex, a bit of adult content people could subscribe to for, I think, $24.95 a month. I set that site up Christmas Eve, 1994. I remember sitting there in the office watching the subscriptions coming in, and because we had no gateway back then we had to process subscriptions by manually entering them into a terminal, and then approving the member depending on whether the credit card was approved or not. We already had a merchant account because of our phone sex business.

How explicit were the photos on Pix.com.au?

Hardcore.

So how were you able to host that in Australia, or had the laws outlawing that not kicked in yet?

There were no laws at that time. They came in 2000.

I posted ads for my new website on Usenet newsgroups, and all of a sudden the subscriptions came rolling in. I launched Christmas Eve, and by 3am Christmas morning I had made $5,000. I remember going to Christmas dinner with my family with my eyes hanging out of my head, worried that all those people who had subscribed would not be able to get access.

Some of that fear was probably warranted.

Right. So shortly after the launch of the first site I started teenager.com.au, which I modeled on the Club Seventeen-type format, because we used to sell all these Payserve magazines under the Seventeen label through mail order, in addition to Seventeen-branded videos they also made. Teenagers.com.au became a runaway hit.

It was hardcore, too?

Yes, we used to buy CDs with content from the United States, like Matrix Content, and then in the late '90s, we started using Paul Markham content quite a lot, because he had the European kind of content we were looking for at the time. That site made a lot of money. I don't want to say how much, but it was doing quite well.

We then started other websites along the teen niche, and also had an affiliate program we used to promote a bit on GFY called TeenPromotes.com. This is over ten years ago. I also had another website which was an internet crawler called sexfinds.com.

So, in 2003, I started on GFY as SexFind, but shortly thereafter Dave from Platinum Bucks bought Sexfinds.com from me, and I became Ozmedia, because I had a company by that name.

What sort of business were you doing on GFY back then? Buying and selling traffic?

I didn't need to buy traffic because we were already getting so much that I couldn't keep up with it. We were regularly bringing servers back up because of the high demand for the websites and the relatively low internet speeds here relative to America.

Was your traffic global at this point?

It was global from the beginning because we were advertising on Usenet. We had a strong complement of local traffic, but remember, most of the people on the internet were in America and Europe.

Which was why you wanted the European content.

That's exactly right.

So, in 1999, it became clear that the John Howard administration was going to censor the internet. We were just waiting for the day when the legislation came in. The Eros Foundation, with Fiona Patten and Robbie Swan, and Peter Coroneos, who was the ISP representative, were all campaigning against it, as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which also fought against it, but ultimately we lost and in early 2000 the law was passed and it became illegal to host adult content in the nation.

We got the first takedown notice...

How many other adult webmasters were there Down Under?

Most were in Queensland, a few were in Victoria; maybe 50 overall.

So, we got the first takedown notice from the government telling us we needed to cut the site off within 24 hours. So this is what I did. I rang Webair and asked them if they could host a .com.au site for me. They said yes. So I FTPed the files to them and the site was up and running within a few hours and I basically tore up the takedown notice, because I had complied with it. I was no longer hosting the website in Australia.

Then, an Australian weekly documentary television show, Four Corners, did a story that was called, "Deliver Us From Evil," about a month after we had moved the site. The show focused on internet censorship, and it said the first adult site to be censored was teenagers.com.au., and all it had to was change where it was hosted. The law said where a site could be hosted and nothing about domains, and that still applies to this day!

The government was severely embarrassed, but a funny thing happened that night. For the first time ever on Australian television, a national program showed a screen shot and named the URL of a porn site. That night, our servers melted down. We did 12 times the turnover in the next few days that we did normally. It was just insane.

Webair only did shared hosting and I quickly outgrew it, and went to Rackspace, where, by 2003 I had about six servers.

So, before we move into the modern era, let me ask this. You go back as far as anyone I know, not only online but also in adult, which means you have a long trail of old sites that people who are gunning for you now have to sift through, looking for...

They've already dug one up.

What's that?

They've have dug up an old link site where there was a banner exchange at the top of the page. Back in 2001 or 2002, (online processor] Verotel used to promote non-nude teen websites., and in the internet archive there is a page with one of those banners on one of our sites. It's for a 15 year old girl named, I think, Anastasia, processed through Verotel.

Now, as you know, Verotal banned all those sites in the early 2000s, when the Visa crackdown happened, but we had no control over those banner exchanges. If we found a banner that we didn't like, we would block it where we could, but I'm not even sure we had the technology then to block them; you either had the banner exchange or you didn't. This is 2001-2.

There is no nudity on the banner, and as lots of people have told me in recent days, Verotel had lots of those banners back then, and processed for lots of those sites back then, but none of them were porn sites, just pictures of girls. Now, as tasteless as you may find them, they definitely were not child pornography, and I don't think Verotel could at any stage be accused of deliberately promoting child porn. They skirted the fine line between teen model websites and porn, I think.

But we had no control over the banner exchange and personally I don't give a shit about it.

So that's the extent to what people gunning for you have dug up? What does it have to do with what you're doing now, unless they are trying to imply that because of that banner, you're a closet pedo also responsible for uploading the CP links you're reporting to PayPal?

They are making those accusations, yeah, but the extent of the distribution of this link appears to be limited to a Russian forum and also on WJunction; nobody's made a big deal of it other than the people pushing it, and plenty of people on GFY have seen it and messaged me saying it's stupid. Everyone who knew me back then knew where our content came from, and knew it was all over 18. I used to say, in porn industry vernacular, that teen means anyone under 25, because I can certainly say that Paul Marham's teens weren't all teens.

Look, my response to those people is simple. Fuck you, I don't care. We did nothing illegal, we've never done anything illegal, and we've always campaigned against child exploitation and always been members of industry bodies that campaigned against child exploitation. If they want to paint a picture that false like that, they can go ahead; I've got nothing to worry about.

But will it have any practical upshot?

I don't think so because the link's been passed around for a few days, on a few forums, and the only people who seem to be pushing this wheelbarrow are the people who are primarily impacted by the shutdown of file lockers.

Look, there have been many people posting that we uploaded all this porn, but my response to them is that there are ten thousand domains with ten thousand links on each of them all pointing to what is purported to be illegal child pornography, which has a history of years.

Okay, so this in a roundabout way brings us up to date, and to the current battle. I'd like to ask you about last week's TorrentFreak article, One Man Army On a Mission To Destroy The Cyberlocker Market, in which they pretty much accuse you of using dirty tricks to go after the file lockers.

Well, first, I disagree that that's what they're accusing me of. I don't they're saying I've been using dirty tricks, but that [the situation] has become a quagmire.

Fair enough, but the article does also say, "In an attempt to bring these sites down, King has been utilizing a hugely controversial approach. One by one, King has waded through a laundry list of sites, searching their indexes for files that appear to contain not only regular copyright-infringing material, but also animal and child pornography. He then reports his findings to PayPal and other payment processors."

Is that correct?

No, that's not what we're doing.

Can you correct that for me, then?

Sure. People perceive that is what we're doing because we post screen shots from various search sites on our blog. But the research we are doing actually utilizes link analysis software. You punch in a domain and then you get a report of everywhere that's linking to that domain.

Oh, like T3Reports.

Well, we're using Majestic SEO.

In order to find out what these sites are doing, we run a link analysis on them. Our first step is to type in a domain and get this huge report showing where all the links are coming from, and when we see there is a pattern of links coming from certain forums or sites, then and only then will we go and screen shot them.

What sorts of forums and sites?

For example, filestube, which is a site on which you can search for file locker sites. So, we might see if we batch up links from one particular site, that 30 percent of the links are coming from one particular site, which might be filestube. If 30 percent of links are coming from filestube.com, and those links are related to software, pornography, movies, games or whatever, we know that the site's worth looking at in more detail because there is no such thing as an original copy of, say, Windows7. If you're saying 500 links from different places purport to be links to Windows7, then it's not going to be an archive of your grandmother's birthday—it's going to be Windows7. And the same applies to child pornography, bestiality, illegal porn, or whatever.

TorrentFreak got it right by making the assumption that we are digging around first in file sharing search sites, when initially all we did was run link analysis on as many file lockers as we could. Now, I won't say how many because I don't want to give anyone a heads up on how many we're targeting, but it's more than 200.

Are you seeing the same people behind these file lockers, or new people starting them up?

There is definitely a core group of people who are involved in a lot of them, and when they lose one for some reason—whether it's because they've stopped paying people, or people have stopped using them or they've become slow—then often those sites will rise from the ashes like the Phoenix and start up again under a new name.

And then apply for new processing?

That's correct.

There are also another group who I call wannabe file sharing site operators, who are pretty much amateurs who buy scripts, put them up on a website, buy lots of storage and then run a file locker. They usually don't last very long. They pop up on sites like WJunction or Digital Point forums all the time, and they seem to run for a little while and then disappear. There are a range of reasons why they go away, but one may be that they simply can't make it profitable.

Not everyone with a tube site makes the profits Manwin made with their tubes.

What's the difference between an amateur and professional file locker operator?

The professional ones are much better organized, have much better server hardware, a degree of redundancy and high speed internet links; the amateurs will set up on a cheap server, won't have high-speed internet connections and don't have very good software running the system because they use just bought scripts. The funny thing is there seems to be no middle ground; you either have a really good file-sharing site or a really bad one.

Do you see the Torrent community intermingling with the file locker community?

For the uploaders, Torrents are the main source of material to upload, but I don't have any evidence to suggest that a private tracker operator also runs file locker sites. I don't see any connection between the Torrent community and the file locker community apart from the fact that the people who upload from file lockers tend to upload a lot of their stuff from Torrents, and then re-upload it to file lockers.

I think the Torrent community is different in that most people who share Torrents do it so that they can get their copy of something, and in doing so they are also seeding the file. I think it's less commercialized, whereas the file locker community is highly commercialized by offering people with slow downloads premium memberships to get unrestricted and fast downloads.

Back to the TorrentFreak article for a minute. In it, one file locker, Nitrobits, threatened to sue you if you uploaded any of the files to the site that you then reported to PayPal. Is that just bluster on their part borne out of frustration?

That's precisely what it is, because there is such a quantity of this material out there that I could not have possibly uploaded it. Let's take Depositfiles.com, for example. They say they have 20 million files and get up to 200,000 uploads a day. I'm in Australia, where our internet still isn't up to spec. I couldn't do it; it isn't possible.

But this is one of the perplexing things to me about this. People have looked at the child pornography and focused on that, but if you go to StopFileLockers.com and look at any of the articles on the websites, most of what we're highlighting is pirated content—pirated games, pirated software, pirated Hollywood blockbusters, and then down at the bottom, it will say this site also has links to supposed child pornography. I would say that only 10-15 percent of what we're highlighting pertains to child pornography.

That may be, but I'm wondering if PayPal is reacting now because of the allegations of child porn more than the allegations of pirated content.

They've reacted because I bugged them until they talked to me. It had nothing to do with the child pornography aspect. What percentage of the world's population is in the United States?

I don't know. Maybe 10 percent?

Let's say it's ten percent, but it's probably closer to five, so let's say it's five. So what percentage of the world's population and organizations in the world does the DMCA cover?

Five percent.

Precisely. It's got nothing to do with child porn; it's got nothing to do with bestiality; it's got nothing to do with normal pornography. It's only got to do with the fact that PayPal has certain terms and conditions about what can and cannot be sold through PayPal. Any type at all of content described as pornography or erotic content falls into the scope of that; stolen content falls into the scope of that, and the reason why PayPal reacted is because I bugged them incessantly for weeks until I got onto the right person.

And I'll tell you one of the tricks I used. When I was getting particularly frustrated after speaking with PayPal media relations in Australia, PayPal media relations in America, PayPal switchboard and the PayPal legal department, so I published on coldcopy.com.au that PayPal were dragging their feet and I named names.

Then, I got an email from a lady named Julie Bainbridge, who is the head of Brand Risk Management for PayPal Legal, and she is the top person who says whether a site conforms or does not comply with PayPal's terms of service. She and I had quite a long conversation on the phone, and I explained to her the extent of the problem.

And she said to me, "Coincidentally, we know there's a big problem but we are already tackling it." She also said they welcomed outside reports to help them investigate and close down offending sites.

Any idea how many new accounts they need to check?

Well, PayPal has millions of accounts and hundreds of thousands of merchants, right? And there are obviously very clear violations of their acceptable use policy out there. For instance, someone selling pirated software on eBay is very easy to pick up. There is cooperation between Microsoft and eBay making it easy to identify that sort of stuff. If someone tries to sell a body part or a baby on eBay, it's not going to fly, is it? Because it's obvious.

As I understand it, there are about 100 people on Julie Bainbridge's compliance team, meaning they're very stretched.

But this is something that needs to be very clearly stated. My communication with PayPal is a one-way street. They will receive reports of infringement from anyone, but what they will not do is communicate client information to anyone. So PayPal never gives client information, and tell me nothing about the client or their position with respect to the client account.

I believe PayPal had already identified the file locker market as a problem, but were just slowly tackling it. I think I just gave them a bit of a hurry-along. Maybe I didn't. Maybe they were going to do this anyway, but I don't believe we would have seen the number of closures of accounts so quickly had it not been for my efforts in communicating these sites to PayPal.

Well, you did get the call from Julie Bainbridge.

That's right, but here's what I also did. This immediately preceded getting the call from her. I was very frustrated with not being able to get in touch with anyone who had any decision-making ability, so I got the switchboard number at PayPal and used an old trick that you as a journalist probably know about. You dial the switchboard number, which might end in 2000,, and then you dial 2001, and 2002, and 2003, assuming they have a range of numbers all on extensions, and occasionally you'll hit people's voicemails and occasionally you'll annoy someone. And I just made myself impossible to ignore. I spent two or three nights employing this tactic. I must have been the most well-known and hated person in PayPal.

When did this all begin?

I documented it all on coldcopy.com.au. The first article was posted June 25. That's when I started calling.

You often use the pronoun "we." Are you working with other people on this effort?

I've got my own staff and there are a couple of GFYers who want to remain in the background who are also helping.

How are they helping? Forensic investigations of sites?

No, more along the lines of working out which sites might be problems so that I can go and do the link analysis.

You save the link analysis for yourself?

Yup, but only because I'm the only person who knows how to work Majestic SEO.

So what was the impetus for doing this? What instigated this activity around the end of June?

For about a year, I've been thinking about how piracy can be tackled in our industry. You may have seen me occasionally go to Fabian and suggest setting up 20 servers and mirror all of Pornhub's material... not that I would ever do that... but I was just expressing that I'm not happy with the state of play.

I hear from my friends in the industry and I read countless threads on GFY about how devastating piracy is for our business. Some of them were about file lockers, some of them were about tubes, and some of them were about porn forums and so on. So for about a year I've been thinking about ways to solve the problem.

Has piracy impacted you personally?

Piracy has impacted me considerably. In fact, piracy is one of the reasons I got out of running pay sites in 2004-5.

Oh, I didn't know that. What is your current business?

I am an affiliate in one way. I also develop software for people, putting projects together. I do some mentoring. There are a few people I am mentoring at any point in time about how to become an adult affiliate, though I do some mainstream, as well. There's a whole range of things I do. I run 299websites.com.au, for instance. I also created and maintain mactarot.com, which is the most popular Tarot software for the Mac. I also write a free script which lets you build an affiliate website with one click, available at buckseasy.com.

I'm like a conductor in an orchestra in my business.

I don't know if you know this, but I also suffer an MS-like illness. I call it MS on the boards, but it's not really MS, but a version called Relapsing Remitting, which means that 90 percent of the time I'm fine but 10 percent of the time I can't walk or do anything for myself. It just comes on when I have no movement, and it happens randomly. I'm actually going through an episode at the moment; I went through the last one in March; before that, it was a year ago.

How long do episodes last?

Sometime for days and sometimes for weeks.

I'm so sorry to hear that. Does that mean you need to have care at home?

My girlfriend will come and look after me when I'm not able to do stuff for myself, and I have a friend who's a nurse who will do the same thing. I often have to sleep through the day because this is very tiring.

Okay, so back to the genesis of this file locker campaign...

Right. So, there was actually a kind of synchronicity of events that occurred all at once. One was that I watched a documentary about what they did to Al Capone, and that they didn't get him for what he did [i.e. murder] but for taxes [i.e. not paying them]. That very same night, Dirty White Boy started a thread about CCBill processing for file lockers that had illegal porn on them, and I went to bed that night and woke up at about 4 o'clock in the morning, and I got up and I sat at my computer and went to a couple of file lockers, and CCBill was still processing for a couple of them, and I saw these other processors, like PayPal, and I thought, "Shit, PayPal doesn't allow porn at all." And then it all came together. The way to get file lockers was not to send DMCA notices, which only work for 5-10 percent of the world's population anyway, but the way to get them was to cut off their supply of money. And that's where it all began. That was about the 20th of June, and on the 25th CCBill stepped up and said they won't process for file lockers anymore. I posted the press release on a domain that I had hanging about that wasn't doing anything, and set about starting to contact PayPal.

Then, after I had formed the relationship with PayPal, I went about forming relationships each of the other processors I came across on file locker websites.

Any idea how much PayPal was making from file lockers?

I don't know how much money is involved, but let's say Oron was the biggest, okay? That's a pretty safe assumption. Megaupload was the biggest, but it went down in a big way and Oron filled its shoes, in addition to all these other lockers that popped up. With Megaupload, up to $50 million was seized, I believe.  Now, let's take a site like Depositfiles, which I believe was selling something like a membership a minute, or some form of access every minute. If you extrapolate that out every minute of the day, every day of the week, and so forth, that's a lot of cash. Some of these might have been one time access for a few Euros a year, but others are $54 a year. So there's a considerable amount of money involved.

[Depositfiles, btw, recently settled a multi-million dollar piracy lawsuit brought by serial litigator Perfect 10 in June 2011.]

If it's not terribly difficult to start a new file locker and get a new account with PayPal or some other processor, won't this continue being a cat-and-mouse situation unless the processor' approval procedures become more demanding, and even then downloaders will go wherever they need to go to stay in business. Meaning, the situation will not change unless the processors become more discriminating before approving accounts. Would you agree with that?

Well, let me use a mainstream analogy. There's a type of site called a drop-shipping site, and they pop up all over the place, often out of China, selling counterfeit goods, like fake handbags, shoes and stuff like that. And a lot of those sites have PayPal accounts and lot of them never deliver the products. And they pop up and disappear again and again, rapidly. I'm sure PayPal knock out some of those accounts but also miss a lot of them. And the same thing will occur with file lockers, and any type of merchant that uses PayPal for nefarious purposes.

Look, Setting up a PayPal account is simple and easy and can be done in minutes. It's only when you run significant money through the accounts that they start putting limitations on you and start demanding ID. As long as you have either a credit card or a bank account linked to that PayPal account, you're up and running the same day.

So, the same is going to occur with file lockers, which is why what I am doing is an important piece of the puzzle. Because we're developing the expertise to more quickly find these file lockers when they pop up, provide the required evidence to PayPal and then hope that PayPal shuts them down, and we can do the same with the other processors.

To that end, we are currently building a collaboration system which is like an in-the-cloud team room, with different apps that allow us to collaborate at different levels so that anyone who we trust who wants to become involved can become involved in shutting down file locker sites. And within that team room environment, there will be automated systems for running link analysis on a site, having the link analysis tell a person whether or not it's a suspect site, then the site can be referred for further investigation, tasks and timelines can be set, and performance can be measured by setting performance standards and performance reporting.

So that's what we're building at the moment and we're hoping to have the first people coming into that sometime this week, in fact.  I've posted on GFY that we're building this collaboration system, and that anyone who's interested in becoming involved to please leave a message on the Stop File Lockers site, and a number of people have done that, and a few of those people will be invited to participate.  [A more formal announcement has now been made.]

This team room environment also allows us to invite people not involved, to be able to observe certain portions of the process as they happen in real time. That means that if you're a content owner, but you don't have the resources to go after these sites yourself, you might be able to pay a small fee to be able to monitor what's going on, and you will be able to notify the team of anywhere that you have found that we have not found. But you won't be able to make decisions, or affect the flow of procedure, because naturally different sites need to be prioritized at different levels, and the bigger sites take a lot longer to gather evidence on than smaller sites.

Have you identified any potential legal liabilities that could accrue to you or to this group? Do you have attorneys advising you?

I have legal advice from very good lawyers in Australia, and they have confirmed what I already knew, which is that unlike America and many other countries, in Australia truth is a 100 percent successful defense against an accusation of defamation or slander. So provided we tell the truth, and just show the evidence as we see it, they could sue us until they're blue in the face and they'll never win.

What about accessing any networks without permission?

We don't access networks without permission. We access public sites the same way the public does. We have some methods that I'm not going to discuss that are completely legal, I don't want to put them out there.

Have any of the file lockers reached out to you to try to work something out?

Yes.

Any success with that?

Depositfiles.com contacted me on ICQ. It was a person claiming to be a lawyer based in Germany. He said, "Hi, I'm Eric from Depositfiles, and I want to jump into the business part. We know that all those wannabe underage material comes from you and your bot network. All your accounts registered are with Malcatch.com, or files that are just dummy files with approximately the same file sizes. Just with obvious fake file names in order to undetected by screen shots. Nevertheless, we have decided to work with you and pay you a monthly high amount if you decide to stop targeting us for no reason."

So I replied, "Hi, Eric. This isn't true. We don't upload anything, but I'm willing to work with you for free to ensure that you can be compliant with acceptable use."

Then we went on and had a conversation about that, and he asked me, "Well, if you could list me what do you think changes on deposit files in rough details, I could forward these infos to the board. I was just told that I should contact you in order to find an agreement between both sides."

I said, "These are the conditions. Number one, no child porn. Number two, no pirate movies. Number three, no pirate software. Number four, no pirate music. And number five, DMCA removals within 24 hours."

His reply was that they have 20 million files stored on their servers and users upload between 180,000 to 220,000 files per day, and how should they monitor all those files?

I said, "Eric, that's not my problem. That's your problem." And that's where it all broke down, because he didn't understand that. But then he said something really disturbing.

I asked him, "Do you have a rewards program for your uploaders." He said, "Yes, pay per download and pay per signup. But pay per download will shut down. We'll only push out revenue for leading customers."

And I said, "Well, until pay-per-download is closed down for everyone, we really can't discuss it any further, because I'm not going to work with you while you're paying people per download."

He said it will be shut down for sure. I suggested he contact me once that's done and we can talk more about the other issues. I said, "I'm happy to work with you. I don't want money. I just want infringement under control. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect your company to make a serious effort to control what is currently way out of control. Does that sound fair?"

He said, "Well, we have some other things in mind. We don't want enemies, but we're the worst enemies when it comes to false accusations."

Now, I took that to be a veiled threat. Knowing that some of their principals are Russians with colorful backgrounds, that's obviously a little bit concerning, but what I said to him was that if he wanted to write a reply to what's contained on the blog, I'll give you one unedited. I'll print exactly what you write. They were going consider it but they didn't seem interested, and that's where the conversation ended.

What do you think they believe the false accusations are?

That there is child porn on their servers.

It seems to me you haven't made that claim. You've simply said the links are there.

That's exactly right, which is interesting in itself, isn't it?

Of course, because you've gone out of your way to deny something that someone hasn't claimed.

That's right. It's kind of like one of the opening scenes in All the President's Men. One of the scenes in Bradley's office, where the White House was saying that it had nothing to do with the break-in, and Bradley said, "What's so unusual about that?" And Woodward replied, "But I didn't ask about Watergate."

Now, what I found interesting about this conversation were the veiled threat, but more importantly that the first thing they did was offer me money to back off. That could have been a test to see if I was trying to shake them down, but I don't think so. I think they just wanted the limelight taken off them. And it didn't work because they were shut down by PayPal tonight, during the big massacre of 2012 for file sharing sites. DepositFiles.com, Uploading.com and mediafire.com are some of the biggest file lockers out there. (Despite the cessation of service by PayPal, Depositfiles was somehow also to start using the service again the next day.)

How many more are there to go?

I have an exact figure of lockers that we have still got to target, but I don't want it out there. However, I can say it's between 300 and 600.

I also see you have also gathered about $2500 in donations. Has that amount been helpful to defray costs?

Well, it's a much more expensive exercise than I had originally imagined. We've been learning through this process, and as we have learned through our mistakes we have reset our procedures and refined what we're doing to a stage where I think what we're doing is pretty good. We know what we're doing and know how to go about dealing with the payment companies, and know how to collect the evidence and what is worth collecting and what is not. We also know how to collect it into a readable format, and finally, we put a report on the blog.

Now, what you see on the blog is just a tiny peephole into what we've amassed. If I put on the blog everything we've amassed for each individual site, it would be like putting the bible on the blog because you couldn't read it all.

Also keep in mind that every time we go after one of these sites, we cannot afford to shoot and miss. So I will not submit a report to a payment processor unless the evidence is so damming that it can't be ignored.

No false positives.

Correct. If I've got any doubts about it, I say, "Let's leave it and re-examine it tomorrow," or we'll put it aside and look at any patterns that occur for the next few weeks.

Why does it have to be 100 percent? Nothing is 100 percent.

When we give the information to PayPal, they just take it as a report and then conduct their own investigation. If their own investigation doesn't bear out what ours bore out, then we lose credibility with the payment processor, which it makes potentially more difficult to deal with them on the next one. And, if the payment processor is sent down the garden path with our information and comes up with a false positive itself, and they get sued by someone for cutting them off for an illegitimate reason, then the whole house of cards will fall down and what we are doing will fail. Because these companies are so brand risk sensitive that if they go and shut someone off and then get a $20 million lawsuit as a result, they won't talk to us again.

Makes sense. You don't accrue the liability, just as others don't who are also sending in reports.

There are a lot of people who send in emails every day to PayPal and other processors. They get so many reports, but unless there are significant patterns I don't think they are dealt  with.

And of course, once you're up and running, you need to maintain your credibility. But this also tells me that, despite the TorrentFreak headline, this is not an army of one.

No, it's not at all.

How many man hours do you think you and your staff have expended so far?

I was just asking that question today, and one of my part-time assistants just pointed to the kitchen of the office and said, "How many pizza boxes are in there?'

Hundreds of man hours have been put into it. On a small site, there might be 20-30 man hours required. On a big site, like Depositfiles—it took the entire period of the operation up until today. Let's say 100 man hours for a large site.

How optimistic are you about the industry coming together to support this effort in an ongoing way? Also, what is your philosophy about file sharing in general, and how we maintain an open internet, which is something I have to assume you care deeply about? And lastly, what about the uploaders, the foot soldiers in all of this; do you have any interest in identifying them?

If you could see my face right now, you would see me with a wry smile on my face.

As far as the ongoing effort, Eric from Remove Your Content told me that he had been involved in many joint efforts before and they had all failed because of bitching and in-fighting. So we're using a platform to create procedures in a team room environment where there is no opportunity for bitching because it is solely a procedural system. People can become involved and have different roles and have different levels of access.

Now, at first, I was going to run this for three months. I was happy just to fund it myself, take three months off work, delegate my work to other people and just pursue this myself. But when we started seeing results, people on GFY started saying they wanted to contribute, but I didn't want to be perceive as making money from it. As the thread developed, though, the calls to help became greater and greater, and eventually I relented, and decided to set our costs and if people wanted to help, who am I to stop them? I also thought it would be a good way for people to feel like they were a part of it.

And we've had some very generous donations. The most generous donation has come from Manwin. I've been asked to not say how much it was, but while it was not a considerable amount of money, it was the most generous that we have received. Now, I am only surmising, but my guess is that Fabian is throwing money at a few different efforts and seeing which ones stick, so we may receive another donation from him; we may not.

A few have also provided recurring donations. Nautilus, for instance, is providing $250 a week until the 6th of December, which is when the chip-in fundraising effort stops.

So, this led us to think about how other people can get involved, and that's when we started to develop the team room environment.

The cult of piracy is now to the level of a religion out there, and they will in their own way never give up. What do you think the impact on adult webmasters and content creators will be from this effort, and others that grow out of it?

Simple logic would dictate that if you cut off the incentive to upload illegal content that fewer people will do it. Right now, if you look on forums like WJunction, there are a whole lot of people crying that their business is being killed because what they do all day is upload pirated content to get paid per download. So, if we can succeed in cutting off most of the supply of money to these sites, most will fail and others will be reduced in size and impact. They will pay out less money and the incentive goes away for the people living in less-developed nations to sit in internet cafes all day to make $30.

Regarding the impact on the adult industry as far as content producers and affiliates go, obviously people are optimistic it's going to have some sort of effect or they would not have donated two and half thousand dollars to the effort. These people do not throw their money around lightly.

I think we may have some impact. We're in a bit of a situation where a lot of people think they are entitled to free content, although with a file locker the premium membership is not free. They're still paying $30 a month for unlimited access.

For the downloader who joins these sites, I think the incentive with these sites is that they get such a range of material for the one payment, but they also get a whole range of risk, including a lot of pirated software preinstalled with viruses, and also connecting to sites that have illegal porn on them and the risk of getting caught up in an FBI sting even if they themselves did not download illegal content. So there is a range of risks, and I am also optimistic that there will be an uptick in sales as a result of killing off file lockers. But I don't think it's going to have a huge impact, because I think the adult industry is in such a state of flux at the moment that we don't know what it's going to look like in a few years time.

We had a long period of time when there was a very stable model that allowed you to put up a pay site and make a mint, but then tubes came along and turned the whole thing on its head, and file lockers have further twisted and distorted the relationship between the consumer and the supplier.

So, my aim is to basically wipe out the incentive that allows the file locker industry to continue by removing their supply of money.

Now, you asked me before about the longevity of this project. Originally, it was going to run three months, and then it turned into six months. What we are working on now is setting up a legal structure that will own the team room system, with all donations going directly to it to seed, and that structure will be the ongoing effort.

So, should I fall out of it or God forbid fall under a bus, there will be someone in place to take over management of it and all the people who want to be involved. We do have other plans beyond file lockers; I won't want to preempt them because the bad guys read these articles, but we've come up with a very innovative idea to deal with another source of piracy. We mapped it out on a white board one night over pizzas, coffee and alcohol, and I'm looking at it right now. It will, I believe, be even more spectacular than even the file locker thing has been.

When will you be ready to talk about it?

When file lockers are deemed to be under relative control.

is there any way to even guess when that will be? Are you even half-way there?

No. (laughing) We've only taken down about 40 PayPal file locker accounts thus far. There are still some very big sites that we are still working on that we have been working on from the very beginning. I'll not make a secret of the fact that I am going after Raspidshare, and I will not be happy until that site loses all forms of monetization—advertising, revenue, everything. And if Oron keeps taking premium payments for service, then we will target them as well.

Do you expect the attacks against you to continue?

I do and they have, but we've got good denial of service protection, and from what I've seen the attacks have been widespread. Because our sites are based on Wordpress, at one stage we were having about 100 trial logins a minute. They were running brute force attacks trying to get into the backend of the website.

Look, I think if they don't think they're succeeding with them or furthering their cause with them, they'll just go away. And anyway, I've got mirrors of the sites everywhere. If one site goes, I've got a backup.

I didn't wake up one morning and just start it. I've been thinking about it for years, but as I said, the confluence of events got the ball rolling.

Are there advantages to this operation being run in Australia rather than the United States or some other country?

Yes, because we have a much more sane legal system. In America, you can be sued for looking at someone the wrong way. But when we publish information, the most important thing is that we cannot be subjected to frivolous defamation suits, and defamation cannot succeed in Australia if truth can be proven. Also, it's not up to the defendant to prove that it's the truth, but the litigant to prove that it is not the truth. And I don't believe there is any statement on any of the websites we've got up that state anything that is not true.

We've also said to anyone who has asked, that if we are wrong just tell us and we will correct it. I've said the same thing to Depositfiles, so it's not like we're going out of our way to concoct stories. In fact, the posts on our sites are very matter-of-fact. Screen shots and very little text.

At the end of the day, you're only the messenger, aren't you? You're not the judge, you're not the jury and you're certainly not the executioner.

No, the payment processors are.

Well, you've already given me over two and a half hours of your time. Is there anything else you want to add before we ring off for now?

The one thing I will say is that I am surprised how quickly we've managed to shut down so many sites. It has exceeded my wildest expectations and continues to surprise me. Today (July 10, in Australia), we are putting in a lot of work finalizing things with different payment processors. There is more to come about some of the sites we posted up about that have been shut down by PayPal.

To be able to shut down 13 sites using PayPal, three of which are very large, is an outstanding result. We couldn't believe it ourselves. We are very happy with it.  And there are more that are about to be terminated, but I can't talk about it yet.

If you have one-way communication with Paypal, how do you know a termination is about to occur?

Because when we provide our research to PayPal, they ask us not to make it known until they have completed their investigation. It's a bit of a bargain we made at the beginning. We would provide the information we've got, they go and do their investigation, and we won't go out of our way to upset that investigation by preempting it. So it's not like they're telling us anything. On some of these sites, there are very complex investigations for PayPal and the other processors. For instance, I knew of course we were working on Depositfiles from the very beginning, but I didn't put it on our sites because I knew that if we fired and missed, we might lose the opportunity to deal with them.

Now, I can explain how we verify how a site has been terminated. For every site, we place the site's details into a crawler, and every half hour the crawler goes and visits the site to see if it can make a PayPal premium membership- payment. If it can't make a payment or can't get to the PayPal shopping cart, and email immediately comes to us and we go check out the site, and if processing is terminated we can then publicize the fact. The crawler is currently crawling about 50 sites, and is also crawling all the sites to make sure they don't come up again, and a couple have.

Some replace their old PayPal accounts by using someone else's name and then use a redirect from the site to another site and then to the PayPal shopping cart. So for PayPal it looks like they're coming from the redirect site.

Yeah, but there's nothing new about having these proxies and redirects. The child pornographers have been using those techniques for years. How can an operation like PayPal not already have that worked into their scrubbing mechanisms for new accounts?

Look, I'm not defending PayPal here—I've said from the start that PayPal should outlaw file lockers outright—but while we've been working to figure it out for one industry, they would need to deal with lots of different industry. We crawl 50 sites. If they did it for all of their merchants, they'd have to crawl hundreds of thousands of sites.

I don't know what the solution is. I'd like to see PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy outlaw file sharing sites, but PayPal won't do it and that's their prerogative. We're focused on our issue. PayPal has to deal with a wide range of issues dealing with different types of merchants. I don't know what the complexities are from their point of view. I don't even know how it stands legally that they can crawl their customers sites. It's a big can of worms that I don't need to think about because it's not my problem. My focus is just on shutting down as many of these file locker sites as I can, or cutting off their money supply. It's interesting to note that we've only shut down one.

Now, it might takes others a week or two to die once they don't replace their processing, so we hope to see more sites dropping off relatively soon, but there have been a number where first it's PayPal, then it's 2CO, then it's been Moneybookers, and then it's been Webmoney. So we have had to tackle them each step of the way. It also takes different amounts of time for processors to terminate accounts.

I also note that while Visa and MasterCard gave us initial support, they have been dragging their feet on everything we send them.

Why would that be, do you think?

I think it may be more difficult process for them. PayPal owns their complete system. Visa/Mastercard are basically brands that license their services from member banks, so it has got to be a much more complex process for the credit card  company. Though I did write an article today to try to embarrass Visa into doing something about allowing its cards to be used to process for access to files promoting child pornography.

It's a calculated risk making the accusation that the child porn is actually there, but I'm happy to take the risk because Visa Australia are not going to have the publicity of suing me. They don't want me getting on one of the popular talk shows talking about trying to stop all this abuse on the internet and here is this big company trying to stop me.

It's interesting though that the story had its intended effect. Visa Australia wants to set up a phone meeting. Actually, now that I'm a little more awake I think I'll give MasterCard a call.

Yeah, you sound more awake now, though I think you've been semi-asleep, which is good in that it's allowed me to tap into your unconscious.

Maybe. Look, as I've said to everyone who has challenged me on the issue. I'm pretty open and been willing to put my own name to this. Even with TorrentFreak, they asked what name to use, and I said, name me. I'm willing to stand up for my conviction. I'm happy to be open and transparent, and if I am all those things then it's much harder for the critics to take me down.

My big thing is transparency. It's initially why I resisted taking donations. If I was going to do it, how could I do it in a transparent way? I only did it when I found a transparent way to do it. Not that the two and a half grand comes close to defraying the costs—my accountant keeps saying he wished they were two and a half thousand!—but that wasn't the point.

That's great, but you know that no amount of transparency will stop the criticisms and accusations coming from the file sharing community.

I don't care about them! I don't care about the file sharing community. I care about my industry. I care about the people I deal with on a daily basis. The industry I am targeting can say whatever the fuck they like, and call me the worst things they can imagine, and they have. They can do anything they want, I don't care, because it is simple proof for me that what I am doing is working.






Related Content:

Tom Hymes

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