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What Porn Can Teach Us About “Piracy”

No one seems to be able to go agree on exactly how much of the traffic on file sharing networks is pornographic. However, what is generally agreed upon is that pornography is the most commonly traded type of file, far outstripping music and Hollywood movies, and constituting nearly half of all searches.

Though this isn’t a shock to anyone who has surfed the Web, what is interesting is that, unlike the RIAA and MPAA, the porn companies have not sued any file sharing companies or individual users over this infringement.

Yet, despite this rampant copyright infringement, Internet porn has grown dramatically as a business over the last few years, now reaching an estimated $2.5 billion per year compared to just $1 billion a few years ago. This explosive growth is taking place even as record labels and movie studios are in the throes of a major slump.

Though there are many differences between the three industries, porn might offer some suggestions to other content creators on how to profit in an environment where piracy is rampant.

Lawsuits Aren’t Sexy

To be fair, it is much easier to sell porn on the Web than music or movies. The ancient maxim of “sex sells” immediately leaps to mind.

However, in recent history, pornography has been at the forefront of every media revolution. VHS, DVD and the Internet itself owe a great deal of their success to the adult entertainment industry. Pornographers, no matter what one may think about them ethically, have generally been the first to embrace new technology even as other content industries have been dragging their heels.

The same has been true for file sharing. Despite the rampant copyright infringement, the porn industry have filed no lawsuits over it. Instead, they’ve tolerated file sharing and, in many cases, even encouraged it by distributing free samples. This is in sharp contrast to the record and movie industries that have filed thousands of lawsuits against both file sharing companies and individual sharers.

Clearly, pornography is resistant to negative effects of piracy. Thousands and thousands of people continue to pay for the same thing they can get for free and their numbers are growing.

How they achieve this, however, is no mystery. All one has to do is look at how the industry works.

The Secrets to Porn Success

Though porn undoubtedly owes a great deal of its success to its subject matter, there are several things that are unique about Internet porn that make it significantly more resistant to piracy:

  1. Watermarked Content – Almost all content from porn sites, including images and videos, free and paid, are watermarked and tagged. This means that, even if they are copied and pirated, that they will be advertisements for the site itself. This eliminates plagiarism and content theft by other sites while also helping interested viewers find the original site.
  2. Regular Updates – Most pornographic sites update either weekly or monthly with new content. This means that, in most cases, when the content hits the file sharing networks it is already out of date. If people enjoy the content they download for free and wish to keep up to date on it, they have to pay the monthly fee.
  3. Niche Content – Though adult sites try to push boundaries, most operate in very tight niches. This enables them to earn a reputation as the best in a field and makes owning a membership there a prerequisite for anyone interested in that type of material. This also helps to attract the rabid fans that pay for content even when it is available for free.

In short, if a site produces regularly updated, high-quality niche content that is easily recognized as it is passed around. File sharing and piracy might not become the major issues they once were.

Though this doesn’t do a lot aid writers since text can easily be stripped of attribution, musicians, photographers and videographers can benefit greatly from this formula.

That’s probably why it’s expanded to more traditional media on the Web.

Not Just For Porn

More recently, mainstream sites have adopted similar formula for using piracy to their advantage. Rooster Teeth, the makers of the popular Red vs. Blue series, and Ask a Ninja have both made livings off of physical copies of their videos, merchandise and, in the case of Rooster Teeth, memberships to their site. This is in spite of the fact that they give their content away for free and encourage sharing.

Similarly, others have been able to sell copies of CDs and even books while giving away the original work in its entirety.

However, their models are different from that of the Internet porn industry in that much of their revenue comes from selling physical objects. Most porn sites, by comparison, make money exclusively from monthly memberships and digital-only content.

Despite that important distinction, the overall principles do still apply and can be used by anyone willing to take a chance on allowing some piracy to take place.

The End of Content Protection?

All of this raises the difficult question, is it necessary to even protect content anymore? If piracy can be a good thing, why bother defending copyright at all?

First off, this strategy won’t be viable for all content. It works best for large collections of media such as images, video and audio. Raw text can be separated from its attribution too easy and will just as likely be plagiarized at the same time it is being copied. Likewise, small collections can be easily downloaded for free, making the paid for copies almost useless.

Second, it won’t work on content with long turnaround times. If it takes more than a few weeks to produce a new work, the free copies will be much more appealing as they are much more up to date.

Finally, this doesn’t work for content that is designed, even in part, to draw the attention of search engines. Duplicate content can greatly hurt one’s effectiveness in the search engines, either directly through an alleged duplicate content penalty, or indirectly through confused users directed to the wrong site.

So, while some sites will be able to change strategies and benefit from users copying and sharing their works openly, most will not. Originality does still count and some content types are just too vulnerable to plagiarism, scraping and abuse. Furthermore, even sites that do make money by allowing piracy of their work will likely have some material, even if it is only a small portion, that they will need to protect.

Still, by riding the wave of user sharing, Webmasters are able to focus their copyright protection efforts on the real villains of the Web. This can save time and help build a larger audience all at the same time.

Conclusions

Content protection is only as valuable as it is a good business and personal decision. That is why, in many situations, it is better to go with the flow than to fight it. Content does want to be free and, in many cases, it can be without repercussions.

If you can work with those that want to share your content, either through Creative Commons Licenses or some other arrangement, you can spend your time fighting more serious cases. Combine that with an effective prevention, detection and cessation system, you can easily whittle down your copyright protection issues to a very insignificant task.

It can require some creativity and new thinking, but others have shown that it can work. It just requires the willingness to take a chance and not rely on old models.

However, anyone running a site on the Web that relies on old models of business probably need to take a long look at their plans anyway. They were probably flawed from the start.

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5 comments
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JabbaJaw
JabbaJaw

You eare right about it. Don't know if you heard about wow nude, but this is exactly what adult video on demand means. People have fantasies and somebody has to make those come true, but of course for a "small fee".

tiberiu84
tiberiu84

The porn industry work with another concept now: adult video on demand. You can actually order a new movie and with the director will have to follow some of your instructions. Imagine that:))

tiberiu84
tiberiu84

The porn industry work with another concept now: adult video on demand. You can actually order a new movie and with the director will have to follow some of your instructions. Imagine that:))

tiberiu84
tiberiu84

The porn industry work with another concept now: adult video on demand. You can actually order a new movie and with the director will have to follow some of your instructions. Imagine that:))

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