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Porn 2.0, and Its Victims

'Private' sex tapes flood user-fed sites like YouPorn.

Sunny Freeman 6 Jul

Sunny Freeman is on staff of The Tyee.

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New tech, new audience.

She's naked and posing suggestively, but otherwise she doesn't resemble the average Playboy model. Yet this "ex-girlfriend" has been viewed by 138,629 people on YouPorn, the new, German-based Internet aggregator of amateur-generated porn.

She's not the only one to have a former lover post her most intimate moments for the world to google. There are over 250 ex-girlfriends currently featured among the tens of thousands of sex videos on YouPorn.

About 15 per cent of women have knowingly made sex videos, according to a recent poll in Cosmopolitan magazine. If true, that's how many are at risk of having an ex post x-rated files of them on a porn-sharing site.

Unlike Paris Hilton, the average YouPorn star probably won't become famous, except unwittingly to his or her next potential boss or partner. And it's likely he or she will suffer a loss of privacy that could hurt her reputation, relationship and career.

As sites like YouPorn and PornoTube that mesh community aspects of social networking with completely free-of-charge pornography rise in popularity, so too do the associated copyright and privacy infringements.

Right now, the law is lagging behind in redressing the harm done to victims of "porn 2.0."

And with the rapid expansion of this new technology, concerns over the impending social, economic and legal implications are probably the only thing uniting conservative lawmakers and traditional pornographers.

The problem with free

Every day, there are 266 new porn sites on the Net. Every second, 28,258 users are viewing porn.

New aggregators like YouPorn and PornoTube make it easier for a new audience to find free Internet porn, previously often only accessible to "techies" who knew how to use often illegal file sharing methods like Bit Torrent.

"I never get free porn. I'm not good with all that Internet stuff, the passwords, the searching. I just buy it," said one 43 year-old Vancouver man who spoke to the Tyee. But he said he would go to YouPorn instead if it was just all in one spot and free, and says that due to this technology, he will almost certainly view more porn than before.

'X-rated' Facebook

He's not attracted to the social networking side of YouPorn, but many people are. One of the best things about these YouTube-like services, says an avid fan, is they allow you to both chat with other posters online and read their profiles. "It's like Facebook with an x-rated edge."

Porn 2.0 sites mesh tagged content, discussion groups and user comments and ratings to form a community where users can easily explore and share different fetishes and fantasies.

Without that community aspect, the allure of YouPorn diminishes, says Fredrick Lane, author of Obscene Profits, a study of the success of online pornography. "It's easier for voyeurs to indulge in fantasy and exhibitionists to expose themselves without violating the law. It's like an electronic peeping Tom."

There are even several Facebook groups for fans of online porn. Members of the PornoTube Appreciation Society, for example, post messages like "Work is going down the tube! The PornoTube!"

Porn goes democratic

Free porn on the web is nothing new. But aggregating it into one searchable database a la YouTube is. That free porn revolution highlights the democratization of sexuality, says Lane.

When porn first emerged in mainstream society, he says, a few magazines like Hustler and Playboy determined social norms of sexual attractiveness: "5'10" and blonde." Now, fans have access to a wide variety of sexual preferences and experiences.

But not everyone in the porn world is turned on by recent developments. In fact, the ease of posting porn online is causing a panic among some adult film producers, who spend big budgets on big stars, only to have those posted and viewed for free, or only to see viewers turn to free, amateur porn instead.

Initially, the Internet increased pornography sales, by providing users with easy and anonymous access. U.S. revenue reached a record $2.84 billion in 2006.

But after years of fairly steady increases, sales and rentals of porn videos dipped from $4.28 billion in 2005 to $3.62 billion last year, according to estimates by AVN, an industry trade publication.

Paid advantages

Despite the slide, traditional porn companies say they still have some advantages. Although the rawness of amateur porn is part of its appeal for some, professional adult filmmakers are banking on the appeal of higher quality production and well-known stars. Some offer extra services.

"Fans of sites like my own appreciate having access to material that is focused on a particular person, and they want to see and learn all they can about that person," says Seska Lane, who hosts and stars in three Canadian pay-for-porn sites. "Live webcam interaction cannot be found on free porn websites."

Along with others, she's upset that material from paid porn sites is increasingly showing up illegally on free porn 2.0 sites -- users sometimes even pay to download the video then post it for free somewhere else. Lane says adult companies like hers are moving to protect their work from copyright infringement by contacting offenders.

Both YouPorn and PornoTube already offer ways to complain about copyrighted material on their sites. But a search for the infamous Jenna Jameson turned up 29 results on YouPorn, despite her efforts, and the efforts of the site, to protect copyright.

When private is public

The amateur porn phenomenon also brings a legal quandary involving privacy for non-professionals.

For those 250 YouPorn "ex-girlfriends" who made private sex videos for strictly personal use, only to find them released online, their rights to privacy will likely go unprotected.

People post sexually explicit images without consent all the time, says Janine Benedet a professor in the UBC faculty of law. "It is a devastating attack. There is no legal mechanism for victims to get their pictures back once they're out there, despite the fact that there is lingering harm."

Any Canadian who posts online content is subject to obscenity laws laid out in the Criminal Code of Canada. Even if the server that hosts the content is outside Canada, if there is a connection to Canada, the offender can be charged.

But Benedet, who specializes in pornography law, says there are very few cases where Internet posts have been deemed illegal by the courts. In one Ontario case, a man was charged with distributing child porn. In another Ontario case, a man was charged with extortion for threatening that he would post nude pictures of a woman on the Internet if she didn't continue to sleep with him.

The charge of video voyeurism might be applied if an image is posted without consent, but this is rare.

"I would be amazed if all the videos on these sites had full consent of the people involved," Benedet says. But if a person is legally in possession of sexually explicit adult content, criminal harassment might be the only applicable charge.

Porn aggregators' liability is not entirely clear under existing legislation. "So far I don't think we've seen any prosecution of that kind," Benedet says.

Real world problems

Privacy disclaimers on YouPorn and PornoTube are extensive. Waivers state users must have the consent of all individuals involved, and claim liability protection against a third party lawsuit.

The companies seem to scrutinize their content at least for illicit content. Searches for "illegal" and "child" turned up no search results on either site.

But the worldwide nature of the web makes it difficult to trace and prosecute violators and even more difficult to police privacy rights. There is no universal set of laws that apply to the distribution, purchase, or possession of Internet porn.

Still, that's not to say what happens on the net can't be regulated, says Benedet. "The idea that the Internet is a borderless lawless universe is quite false," she adds.

Experts like Lane say porn 2.0 is here to stay, given how easy it is to post and view material online. Now lawmakers need to catch up with tech-savvy Internet users, and deal with the potential emotional and psychological damage lurking for "ex-girlfriends" around the world.

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