SOPA, PIPA, the AVN Expo and Porn! (Oh My)

01/17/2012 2:02 PM |

This would literally be what you would see if SOPA passed.
  • This would literally be what you would see if SOPA passed.

The porn industry and the free internet: two massive forces that simultaneously help and hinder each other in a sometimes-dysfunctional marriage of convenience. Tomorrow is a big day for both.

January 18th is the opening day of AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, the porn trade show that for the first time in its history is not happening concurrently with CES. The Adult Expo started life as a sort of porn alley within CES, grew big enough to require its own space, and now has such a draw that AVN has decided hold it the week after CES. According to The Street, “some estimates claim up to 40% of attendees go to both expos,” so it’s a bold move.

January 18th is also the day the internet—or parts of it—are going dark to protest SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate’s internet-killing anti-piracy bills. Though SOPA has been shelved and the White House has said it won’t sign either bill, it’s clear that we’re not nearly out of the woods. Though the administration’s statement assures us that it won’t support legislation that

reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet

it still insists that

online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs.

A small battle won, but the war is far from over. So, tomorrow Reddit, Wikipedia, and many other sites will turn the lights out from 8 am to 8 pm in support of a free and open internet. Redditors are urging porn users to write an email to their favorite sex sites’ administrators, asking them to join the protest. So far, they don’t seem to be having much luck. It could be that they serve, as Reddit puts it, a “largely politically apathetic userbase.”

But it seems to me that Big Porn’s position on SOPA-like legislation is not at all clear-cut. As Violet Blue wrote (link NSFW), “I think the porn biz would be more on the MPAA and pro-SOPA side.”

After all, whose intellectual property is more frequently stolen than producers of porn? Though some porn sites make their money aggregating stolen content, the big guys—the AVN Adult Expo exhibitors, say—would seem to have as much at stake as their SOPA-supporting Hollywood counterparts.

And yet, as Reddit’s letter points out, it’s not quite that simple:

Apart from the technical blocking measures, another serious problem is the ability of a private entity to shut down the money flow of a website without any involvement of a court. By making payment providers and advertisement networks liable for the websites they provide services to, they can be bullied into cutting off services to any website that is accused of infringing copyright; whether guilty of this act or not, it does not matter. This would allow companies to shut down and censor almost any site they don’t approve of without even going to court – after all, most sites can’t survive without a source of income.

Porn sites seem uniquely vulnerable to this kind of attack. “Moralist” groups are nothing if not good at pitching a fit until corporations cave to their demands, and nowhere else is the “think of the children” wailing shriller than when googleable-by-anyone internet porn is up for discussion. The porn industry’s insider/outsider status cuts the other way, too. In December, an anti-SOPA Democrat tried to undermine the drafters of the legislation by introducing an amendment to exclude pornographic materials from the bill, forcing SOPA supporters to either create a giant loophole or piss off their conservative base by publicly defending the intellectual property rights of pornographers.

It’s been said that the desire for better pornography is one of the primary driving engines in tech innovation. Whatever the internet becomes, it’s clear that porn will be a huge part of it, even at a policy-making level. So as wikipedia goes dark and the porn industry bigwigs gather in Vegas, I leave you with this: Big Red Son, David Foster Wallace’s meditation on the Expo, porn, and the American sexual psyche. It’s something to do while Reddit is down, at the very least.