The Future

If PornHub wants to support a cause, start with sex worker rights

The site frequently attaches itself to causes of the day while taking advantage of the people who make its site possible.

The Future

If PornHub wants to support a cause, start with sex worker rights

The site frequently attaches itself to causes of the day while taking advantage of the people who make its site possible.
The Future

If PornHub wants to support a cause, start with sex worker rights

The site frequently attaches itself to causes of the day while taking advantage of the people who make its site possible.

News broke last month that Tumblr’s owner, Verizon, was looking to sell it. In response, the online porn company Pornhub swiftly inserted itself into the media fray by releasing a statement that it was "extremely interested" in purchasing Tumblr and that it wanted to restore the site as one welcome to porn and adult-content creators; Tumblr made headlines and was roundly criticized last year for its decision to ban all porn and NSFW content from the platform. The ban essentially destroyed the online livelihoods of sex workers who had created adult content on Tumblr as well as flagged and banned discussions surrounding LGBTQ+ issues and art containing nudity.

Many celebrated the news as the perfect pairing to ameliorate Tumblr’s porn ban, touting Pornhub’s brand of sex positivity that it has carefully crafted through its witty social justice-themed tweets and marketing about sex workers and sex positivity. However, Pornhub’s stated interest in Tumblr, when contrasted with its history of criticism from porn actors for its piracy of porn content and poor business practices, raises questions about disconnects between the company’s pro-porn actor marketing and its business practices. Ultimately, this speaks to how Pornhub co-opts online social-justice discourse in their marketing and branding only to act against those same ideals in their actual business practices.

Pornhub’s statement, first published by BuzzFeed, reinforced its pro-porn creators branding for which its online marketing has become known. Pornhub Vice President Corey Price expressed “dismay” at Tumblr’s porn ban and its efforts “to eradicate erotic communities on the platform, leaving many individuals without an asylum.”

Similarly, when Tumblr announced that it was banning porn content last December, Pornhub tweeted a message that quickly went viral purportedly in support of independent porn creators: “Pornhub welcomes you with open arms. Join our amazing community of millions.”

In contrast to Pornhub’s clever pro-porn creator statements, numerous porn actors and activists have criticized Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek for having “destabilized” and established “monopolistic control” over the porn industry, building a fortune from stealing massive amounts of content from sex workers, and destroying porn actors’ abilities to earn a fair livelihood. Both companies have long been lambasted for being “technocrats” who have made enormous amounts of money by leading the “tech takeover” of the porn industry in the 2000s by stealing porn, giving it away for free, and depressing porn actors’ income.

Specifically, many adult performers have called out the stolen content that fills Pornhub’s website. Cookie Cyboid, a trans adult-porn performer, recently tweeted about the difficulty of making a living as an independent porn creator. “The best month I ever had I made $800 from manyvids. I could probably make more if I made videos more consistently but with the style I have that doesn’t really work. Plus, the video that made me that much? Almost instantly up on pornhub. They all are.” They continued, “It’s a constant game of fuckin’ wackamole.”

In a recent interview with the Daily Dot, Cyboid explained that when videos that independent porn performers create get stolen and uploaded to Pornhub, there is “no realistic way for [performers] to fight it unless [they] sign up with a MindGeek site” as a verified model, which further adds to MindGeek’s monopolistic control over the porn industry.

Erotic-film director Erika Lusttold Refinery29 last year that her team has fruitlessly chased Pornhub, asking it to take down some of her ilms. According to Lust, a pioneer of feminist porn, "[Free porn sites] steal from studios, while at the same time profit from unregulated amateur production.” She continued, "Most of the performers involved in these videos did not give their consent for their film to be pirated and hosted on a free porn site."

Even if porn actors sign up as a verified model, the pay is according to the number of views their videos get and, as some porn actors report, videos need to get a very large amount of views for the pay to add up to anything substantial.

In response to stolen-content critiques, Pornhub has repeatedly marketed its “Model Partner Program,” which allows porn actors to sign up for verified accounts on Pornhub, upload the videos they create, and earn a percentage of the ad revenue their videos generate to deflect from the critiques. In response to a tweet critiquing Pornhub’s website for being chock full of “stolen content,” the Pornhub Twitter account tweeted, “[W]e work with thousands of independent sex workers in our model program. Also Premium supports the industry by getting people to pay $9.99 per month for porn and support their favorite content producers. It's a win all around.”

Similarly, a few days ago, multiple Twitter users critiqued Pornhub’s use of stolen content. One user wrote, “I have never uploaded a video onto your site, and yet my goddamn face is on it. Against my will I might add. I respect the helping the environment and bees and all that, however the fact I can’t get my face off your site is infuriating.”

Another wrote, “Its shitty to put the onus on models to chase down illegal content YOU'RE hosting. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure all the content you host isn't stolen, or otherwise illegal. Yall certainly make enough money to do it. But I'm gonna guess profits would go down if you did.”

In response to both, Pornhub yet again promoted its partner program as proof of its support of porn creators. In fact, it seems that when critiqued by porn actors who’ve had their content stolen by Pornhub, the company repeatedly resorts to touting its supposedly pro-porn creator partner program to deflect such allegations. It seems that the “partner program” may be little more than a marketing smokescreen to promote its pro-porn creator branding and avoid substantially addressing the issues at hand.

In addition to Pornhub’s stolen-content issues, some adult performers have come out against the monopoly that MindGeek has created over the porn industry. In addition to Pornhub, MindGeek owns most of the top tube-like porn stream sites such as YouPorn, RedTube, and Gaytube. These sites’ business model seems to be the systematic theft and piracy of porn content.

The monopoly has become so restrictive that some adult performers are being forced to work for MindGeek regardless of its poor practices. Despite calling out Pornhub, porn actress Tasha Reign told ABC that actors have a choice between working for MindGeek and working at all. “It’s like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place in a way, because if I want to shoot content then I kinda have to shoot for [Mindgeek] because that’s the company that books me because they own…almost…everything,” she said.

Thus, not only is there a clear discord between the harmful impact Pornhub has on porn workers and the pro-sex worker brand that it projects, the site’s anti-sex worker business practices could mean that if it were to actually acquire Tumblr, it could use that site to further its exploitation of online sex content creators — particularly the independent and marginalized online sex workers that frequented it. Pornhub did not respond to multiple requests for a comment on criticisms of its content theft and monopoly business practices or on the conflict between its branding and its actual business practices

While Pornhub has carefully curated a social justice and pro-sex worker brand over the years, this marketing ploy to “humanize” themselves and co-opt the social-justice discourse has also worked to obscure the company’s harmful actions. Underneath the witty tweets, artfully crafted statements, and glowing press is a tech company that has acted according to principles antithetical to the ideals it espouses in its branding.

*UPDATE: In response to this piece, PornHub spokesperson Chris Jackson sent over the following statement from Corey Price, the site’s vice president. We have not edited it for grammar, style, or clarity.

*While opinion pieces are not held to the same journalistic standards as objective news, this particular piece contains multiple unsubstantiated and factually incorrect claims that require correction. This piece is 'supported' by inaccurate, dated reporting that has required numerous corrections since publication, something not disclosed by the author. In addition, regarding all the performer allegations mentioned in this opinion piece, Pornhub has tried to contact and work with them over the years, but was ignored or blocked from doing so, including Erika Lust. The claims made by these sources are often opinions and remain uncorroborated, they should not be treated as facts.

*Despite this opinion pieces best efforts to argue otherwise, it is important to note that neither MindGeek nor Pornhub are monopolies and do not come even close to fitting the definition of one.According to SimilarWeb, there are four adult sites that rank in the top 50 most visited websites in the world. Two of them, xvideos and xnxx, are WGCZ-owned websites and have a combined traffic of over 200 million unique daily visitors. By comparison, MindGeek owns three of the top 10 adult sites, and seven of the top 100. Only Pornhub is in the top 50 most visited websites in the world. This does not come close to fitting the definition of monopoly, nor a near monopoly.

Not only does this op-ed misuse the term ‘monopoly,’ it also makes inaccurate claims about the piracy of sex worker content. Here at Pornhub, we are incredibly proud to host 100,000+ independent sex workers as well as over 1,000+ content partners who all use the platform as a monetization tool that reaches one of the largest audiences in the world. To be clear, Pornhub does not upload any content; it is a platform for people to upload and monetize their own content, similar to how YouTube operates. In 2018, Pornhub paid $0.64 per thousand views, which is slightly lower than YouTube, a site with significantly more advertisers. As it relates to piracy, Pornhub has been, and will remain, proactive in our efforts to block pirated content. Pornhub has implemented a state-of-the-art third party digital fingerprinting software, which scans new uploads for potential matches to copyrighted material. Content creators who digitally fingerprint their work are then protected from having their work uploaded by unauthorized parties. It does not require a Pornhub account, is completely free and we strongly encourage all creators to fingerprint content (more information can be found here:”