Let’s talk about Porn. According to Wikipedia, „[d]epictions of a sexual nature are as old as civilization“. And of course, paraphrasing Walter Benjamins famous essay, works of porn have changed in the age of mechanical reproduction. New means for (re-)producing works of art – printing press, photography, video, the Internet – have always and early on been used for producing and distributing pornographic works. And in the Internet age, porn has become more widespread than ever. Wondracek et al. (2010, PDF) report in their paper entitled “Is the Internet for Porn?” that 42,7% of all Internet users view pages with pornographic content. Also, popularity of peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies is connected to access to pornographic content (see Coopersmith 2006, PDF).

In spite of these well-known facts regarding the importance of pornography in the context of new copyright-related technologies, talking about the role of both producers and consumers of pornographic content in regulatory struggles is uncommon in journalistic and scholarly analyses alike. As a first step to acknowledging this role, I just want to list examples I can recall where porn producers and/or users have been influential in the field of copyright-related struggles:

Video format wars

“Just as in the 1980s, when the Betamax and VHS video formats were battling it out for supremacy, the pornography industry will likely play a major role in determining which of the two blue-laser DVD formats – Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD – will be the winner in the battle to replace DVDs for high-definition content.” (Computerworld 2006)

The U.S. Supreme Court case Sony v. Universal, which legalized copying complete television shows for purposes of time shifting, was a landmark ruling in the history of U.S. copyright law. Whether the related format war around recording technologies between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS was tipped in favor of the latter by the porn industry’s support for VHS is a contentious issue as of today. But even if this explanation were a myth (see Owen 2008), decades later the pornography industry was considered to be relevant in deciding the standard war between HD DVD and Blue-Ray.

However, the pornography industry is not only influential in private standardization processes but might even intervene in political debates and grass-roots campaigning, as is shown by the following two examples.

German Zensursula Campaign

In 2009, the so-called “Zensursula” campaign – a play with the German word for censorship (“Zensur”) and the name of then Federal Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen –  not only boosted support for the still young German pirate party (see also “Around the Geman Pirate Party Convention 2012”) but also managed to collect over 134.000 signatures for a petition against the so-called “Access Impediment Act.” By then, this had been the most successful online petition ever, leading to the law being repealed in 2011.

Among the most consequential albeit widely unnoticed supporters of the petition was the free pornographic video sharing website YouPorn. In a banner on their homepage visible to German visitors, YouPorn endorsed signing the petition (see screenshot below).

According to several reports on twitter, the YouPorn endorsement was so successful that the petition site broke down.

Protests against SOPA/PIPA

This year in January, while everyone was paying attention to the Wikipedia blackout as a sign of protest against the SOPA/PIPA bills in the U.S. congress, again YouPorn was weighing in. The blog article “Stop US Gov’t From Censoring Your Internet; Stop S.O.P.A!” received over 180 comments and, probably more important, a banner on the main site informed YouPorn users about how to protest against the bills.

Taken together, these three examples demonstrate how influential alliances of producers and consumers of Internet pornography can be in regulatory struggles in the field of copyright. However, this influence is rarely acknowledged or even mentioned in scholarly works on that issue; my own works have not been an exception to this rule.

Of course, (fighting) pornography often also provides the excuse for launching restrictive Internet legislation in the first place. Most recently, UK prime minister David Cameron announced plans to introduce new filters for online pornography, requiring users to “opt-in” (see “Pornography online: David Cameron to consider ‘opt in’ plan”). I would not be surprised if YouPorn was soon going to display political banners again.

(leonhard)