Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Turns Out, the Porn Industry Is as Sleazy as the Music Business

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2012 at 10:16 AM

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When you read a description like "Las Vegas attorney ... who represents a major adult film company," it's a safe bet that the fellow being described probably isn't fighting poverty or working on a human-rights campaign.

And in this case, that bet would be the right one. Marc Randazza has been busily filing lawsuits against people he accuses of downloading unauthorized copies of porn videos. Some of the people being accused -- by Randazza and others -- are innocent. And even the guilty ones probably don't deserve to be threatened with possible financial ruination.

NBC Bay Area News reporter Vicky Nguyen's story about "Porn Copyright Trolls" says that according to Randazza, of the 30,000 cases he's pursued, "only four of the accused were innocent."

"I think that happens as often as you see a unicorn," he told Nguyen. Got that? Four of every 30,000 unicorn sightings are legit. Readers who spot a unicorn (with those odds, there must be a few of you) are encouraged to bring their stories to me -- photographs or video would be a real plus.

Meanwhile, there are the stories of people like Bobbie Jean Thomas, a 78-year-old Richmond woman who received a threatening letter from a Los Angeles attorney accusing her of illicit pornmongering. It took a year, but eventually the case against her was dismissed.

Interestingly, Randazza was instrumental in the successful legal fight against Righthaven, a company that existed just to sue people for republishing newspaper stories. It was the ultimate copyright troll.

The porn business is probably more hurt by piracy than is just about any other kind of media industry. The Internet is positively festooned with free porn, much of it pirated. But even when it's not pirated, the Internet has a way of absolutely destroying its value. Unlike with scripted movies and television shows, one porn video is pretty much like any other (at least, within each, uh, sub-genre). There is no longer any reason that anyone should pay for porn when whatever they might be looking for is just a click away, either legitimately or not.

Hence the industry's desperate, panicky tactics. "Attorneys for the adult film industry are taking a page from the music industry and filing mass lawsuits to stop porn piracy," Nguyen writes.

When "taking a page from the music industry" is being used to describe you, it's probably a sign that you need a shift in strategy. But don't look for that to happen anytime soon now that the lawyers are involved. The tactic is to threaten and settle, often for a few thousand dollars. "People don't pay because they didn't do it, Randazza told Nguyen, sounding a lot like the copyright trolls of yore. "People pay because they did it or it wasn't them and it was somebody in their household."

Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney for San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, retorted that lawyers like Randazza "don't really care whether people have actually infringed their clients' copyrights or not."

Taking a page from the music industry, indeed. On the next page are the words "The End."

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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