Last week, adult performers started tweeting the hashtag #PayForYourPorn, urging their followers to buy clips on their websites instead of watching them for free on tube sites:

#PayForYourPorn surfaced on Twitter shortly after Samuel L. Jackson made a joke about the porn tube site Redtube at an Avengers press conference last week. The joke prompted the ire of adult performers like Tanya Tate, who interpreted the quip as a winking endorsement of porn piracy.

But in fact, it was only a coincidence that #PayForYourPorn, which also spawned a website and anti-piracy PSAs featuring performers Tasha Reign and Chanel Preston, launched around the time Jackson made his comment. It’s actually an anti-piracy campaign initiated by the company Adult DVD Empire (NSFW), which, as a porn DVD retailer, has obviously been hard-hit by the widespread availability of free online porn.

“The tube sites, the torrent sites—all of these things are detrimental to the industry,” says Adult DVD Empire marketing director Megan Wozniak. “”If people continue down this road, porn is not gonna get made. It’ll all be amateur content, and you won’t get the high-resolution, high production quality that you have with the studios. We just wanted to educate consumers who might not be aware of the effects of pirated content.”

Although #PayForYourPorn is one of the adult industry’s first organized social media efforts to bring porn piracy to the attention of the general public, it’s far from a new issue. For the past decade or so, porn has taken a hit from torrent sites and the prevalence of tube sites like Pornhub and Redtube, which offer streaming clips or full movies for free. Many performers have argued that these sites redirect traffic from their own pay sites and take money from already-cash-strapped studios, decimating their budgets and forcing them to drive performers’ rates down.

“The fans don’t understand: we get paid once for shooting the scenes and that’s it,” says Tate. “The fans are like, ‘don’t you make money from the sales? Don’t you make royalties?’ And you’re like, ‘No.’ But you still want them to pay for your product, because you want the companies to keep going and keep hiring you to shoot for them.”

When fans tweet a link to one of Tate’s scenes on a tube site, she says she tries to explain how their actions affect her ability to make a living, to mixed results: “Sometimes they get it, sometimes they’re oblivious. Sometimes they don’t care.” The aim of #PayForYourPorn is to get fans to stop thinking of porn as something they’re entitled to for free, and start thinking of the welfare of those behind the content: not just performers, but producers, distributors, and crew members as well.

Getting people to start paying for porn is not a modest task: Given how ubiquitous tube sites are, it’ll require nothing less than a total paradigm shift. “The majority of the porn-consuming public thinks of porn as something that has a baseline value of ZERO,” says the adult performer Siri, a vocal anti-piracy advocate who has embraced the #PayForYourPorn hashtag. “[...] We have to change people's minds about porn, and convince them that adult films ARE valuable and it's worth it to support those performers whose work they enjoy.”

It also complicates matters further that some of the most popular tube sites like Pornhub are owned by Mindgeek, a major conglomerate that also owns popular production studios like Brazzers and Digital Playground—which regularly employ performers like Siri and Tate. It’s almost impossible to make a living in the adult industry without working with Mindgeek in some form or another, which Tate says creates something of a Catch 22 for performers who criticize the tube sites.

“In the mainstream movie industry, a company like Warner Brothers, if they saw one of their films on a tube-like site, they would immediately get their lawyers and get the scenes taken down,” says Tate. “But in our industry, the big players are also the ones behind the tube sites. They’re the ones that direct where all the traffic goes.”

For this reason, many performers and distributors are wary of making a big stink about the effects of digital piracy on the industry, or to speak out directly against Mindgeek or the tube sites. A recent Nightline segment on the subject of porn piracy focused on performers’ reticence to openly criticize Mindgeek. “People are afraid to speak out, because they’re afraid [Mindgeek’s studios] won’t book them anymore,” says Tate.

Even an organized anti-piracy hashtag campaign like #PayForYourPorn reflects the stronghold Mindgeek has over the industry: In a recent post (NSFW), porn muckraker Rob Black pointed out that Adult DVD Empire stocks DVDs from studios owned by Mindgeek, and a promotional photo in a blog post promoting #PayForYourPorn features performers Stoya, Kayden Kross, and Jesse Jane, all of whom were at one point contracted with Digital Playground, which is owned by Mindgeek. (The photo is no longer on their blog).

When asked about adult distributors’ need to negotiate the tension between maintaining business relations with Mindgeek and speaking out against piracy, Adult Empire's director of business development Colin Allerton says that "just about every studio" has been forced to partner with tube site content programs. "If we were to not stock DP [Digital Playground] movies or any Mindgeek studios, there would be no movies to sell, because just about every major studio and star is now partnered with Midgeek or has worked for a studio that Mindgeek purchased, as well as other tube sites," he says.

Allerton also draws a distinction between tube sites hosting pirated content that's uploaded by users, and content that's supplied by the studios themselves, who often include links to their paid membership sites. "We have no problem with studios uploading their own titles to gain new members, as a lot of people do try before they buy," he says. "The problem is people uploading titles that they don't have the right to upload."

Siri agrees that the focus should be less on MindGeek and MindGeek-owned tube sites, and more on the issue of piracy in general, which is far more pervasive. “It's true that MindGeek owns many of the largest adult film studios and owns many of the largest tube sites, but they don't own all of the tube sites (and that doesn't even address the issue of torrents, another bane of the adult film industry),” she says.

“Performers are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to speaking out against MindGeek, [and] I understand if some performers would rather keep their mouths shut on the issue, but it does absolutely no good for any of us to cop an attitude of ‘I don't give a damn about piracy.’ Do you want your job to continue to exist? Then you should give a damn.”

Photo by Lies Thru a Lens/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)