File Lockers: Next Chapter in Porn Piracy Saga
LOS ANGELES — The adult entertainment industry's war against online piracy has spurred a new breed of front-runner protectionists who have emerged as formidable forces to be reckoned with in the fight against intellectual property theft.
Pirated adult content is prevalent on the Internet. In fact, some adult entertainment companies' entire catalogs are available online illegally.
Collectively, the exact dent in lost revenue for the hundreds of studios that have fallen victim to piracy is untold but many industry members believe the porn biz has suffered a 50-percent decline in gross revenues since its peak in 2005. The negative impact is partly due to the illicit trading of porn through file-sharing lockers hosting user-uploaded content and BitTorrent sites that utilize a popular file sharing protocol for transmitting large media files between users.
In recent months, one industry player, Robert King, has become the most vocal personality in a collective dragnet of sorts against file-sharing sites that knowingly have become accomplices in hosting stolen porn. To drum up revenue, some even offer money-making programs, encouraging internet users to upload and promote stolen material.
King, who goes by the moniker AdultKing on industry message boards and lives in Melbourne, Australia, is a former adult site owner who left the game in part due to rampant content piracy.
But now King is turning defense into offense, taking on what seems like a nebulous enemy spread across the globe by orchestrating a carefully crafted group assault on the one area where file lockers are most vulnerable — their payment processing through companies such as PayPal.
One industry observer has called him a “one-man army” in his efforts to take on the adult entertainment industry’s single biggest threat — piracy.
But online piracy through file lockers, also known as cyberlockers, isn't just the adult entertainment industry’s problem; mainstream Hollywood has been battling the issue for just as long. In fact, its efforts have been highlighted by the battle against Megaupload, whose chief operator, CEO Kim Dotcom, was indicted.
Although the case is ongoing, the Megaupload shutdown and resulting indictments appears to be a clear victory for the studios. Bolstered by its success, Hollywood moved on to rogue file locker Hotfile.com, with 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. jumping into the fray.
On the porn front, content producers, including gay adult entertainment studio Corbin Fisher, have gone after Hotfile.com and a significant number of its users in high-profile cases.
For struggling porn studios seeing profits dwindle daily and lacking the big budget and lengthy timeframes of their Hollywood counterparts, a grassroots shortcut to success in the anti-piracy war was desperately needed.
A Warrior Emerges
King's strategy is simple: Rather than become embroiled in the legal entanglements faced by parties such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other groups concerned with copyright protection, King has gone straight to the source — pointing out to PayPal’s own compliance department that the illegal file lockers using its payment services are in direct violation of the biller’s acceptable use policies (AUP).
While such an approach may expectedly be met by standard form letters proclaiming that the payment processing company “is looking into it,” King’s tenacity moved him up the corporate food chain until he found a decision maker with the authority to effectively pursue these cases — and he didn’t let go — hammering PayPal with irrefutable proof of criminal activity and AUP violations, until the company had no choice but to take action.
TorrentFreak, a popular technology blog that follows business and legal aspects of file-sharing networks such as file lockers and BitTorrent networks, called King “a one-man army,” fueling the notion that this lone persona has been able to do what Hollywood and its full army of attorneys have been unable to do.
But is King’s strategy unique, and is he responsible for the recent file locker closures? There is undoubtedly a high degree of having been in the right place at the right time behind the folklore surrounding King’s campaign against file lockers.
King recently formed Copy Control Pty. Ltd., an Australian corporation overseeing the campaign that runs StopFileLockers.com. He kick-started the organization with a small amount of donations along with $50,000 out of his own pocket.
Copy Control is a for-profit enterprise, he says, that made its first corporate decision to mandate that any profit at the end of the financial year goes back into the company rather than to stakeholders.
“I want this to be able to be bigger than one person, to be accountable and efficient,” King said.
Offering an online collaboration system called Podio that allows the anti-piracy group to assign roles and access levels to its base of anti-piracy activists, as well as an international hotline for reporting content piracy, Copy Control’s custom developed toolset allows anyone who wants to help the cause, to do so.
“It is even possible to provide people with observer or guest access to see overall operations without revealing higher level confidential information,” King said. “So for example a guest might be able to see our targets and compare them to our milestones [or] a guest might be able to tip us off about a site to target and will also be able to search for targets we have already dealt with.”
The responses to King’s efforts have included a swell of ad-hoc backing — including financial help and administrative resources — and a large number of virtual “high-fives” for moral support.
This collective jumping on the bandwagon is next chapter in the porn piracy saga, but the same war other organizations have been waging for a while.
Other Warriors In The Trenches
One group with similar interests is the Adult Content Industry United Foundation (ACIUF), whose president, Siep Kuppens, told XBIZ that while the group’s focus is on the pirate’s money train, file lockers have come under its cross-hairs as part of the push.
“In meetings with representatives from financial institutions it was made clear to us that certain companies were fed up with pirates and illegal file lockers as well,” said Kuppens, who is also the CEO of a European adult entertainment company. “All they asked us to do was to come up with the solid proof.”
“So we traced the content from the moment it was stolen by professional pirates, until the moment it was uploaded at the file lockers,” he said. “This proof was then gathered into reports that were sent to several institutions.”
Kuppens said that ACIUF is providing reports and other support to AdultKing.
“He has a slightly different approach,” Kuppens said. “But believe me, we enjoy everything he does.”
Another veteran in this battle is Dominic Ford of Porn Guardian, which has done an extensive amount of work pursuing file lockers but has purposefully remained quiet about the company’s efforts due to a larger legal strategy that could be compromised by providing sensitive information to the pirates being targeted.
“We have spent the last two years priming the credit card and payment processors on this issue and have had success in getting [them] to stop processing for certain file hosts,” Ford told XBIZ. "Having said that, we have offered our full support to AdultKing, who has been able to get very far [by using] this strategy.
“We will put our support behind anything that helps the industry at large,” Ford adds. “We also work closely with ISPs and keep an automatically updating database that shows us at a glance which ISPs are hosting the most active pirate sites.”
Porn Guardian, incidentally, offers one creative solution that appears to be a moneymaker for some adult entertainment companies. Its Making Piracy Pay initiative works with file hosts to redirect illegal URLs to point to the legitimate files on the clients’ sites.
“We track traffic and sales, which enables us to quantify how much money is actually being lost due to piracy,” Ford said. “Plus, it generates sales for our clients from these would-be pirates. It’s an incredibly powerful program.”
Takedown Piracy, which goes beyond file lockers and BitTorrent networks and tracks potential piracy in a wide range of other media (tube sites, auction sites serving as fronts for unauthorized DVD resellers, search engines, blogs, forums, image hosts and social media technologies), also has set out to stomp out the illegal trading of porn.
The organization, helmed by owner Nate Glass, has become one of the top players in the mission of protecting porn from theft and is now Google's top whistle-blower when it comes to pointing out copyright infringements, eclipsing second-place MPAA and boasting nearly half a million URLs reported in July alone.
“Our aggressive enforcement coupled with the efforts of people like AdultKing and Corbin Fisher are putting a huge dent in the for-profit file locker pirates,” Glass told XBIZ. “We think what AdultKing is doing shows what a huge impact one person can have when they are dedicated and believe in their cause."
While Glass, Ford, Kuppens and King are each doing more than their part to try to derail piracy on all fronts, porn’s most elusive enemy will continue casting an ominous shadow on the adult entertainment industry and only a sustained effort will deter the onslaught. These enterprising warriors should be lauded for their strategic aggression in protecting the rights of copyright holders, but without question, these groups will need others to join in these battles in order to substantially subdue the plague of porn piracy.