How Pornhub Enables Doxing and Harassment

Pornhub is hosting videos that have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. The women in them say they thought the videos would never reach the internet, and that being doxed has ruined their lives.

by Samantha Cole and Emanuel Maiberg
17 July 2019, 4:33am

Illustration by Emily Bernstein

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Pornhub, one of the most visited websites in the world, is hosting and profiting from videos of women who say their lives were ruined as a direct result of the videos being shared on its platform.

The videos were produced by Girls Do Porn, a "Pornhub Content Partner" that is being sued by 22 women for fraud, emotional distress damages, and misappropriation of their likeness. According to John O'Brien, one of the attorneys representing the women, at least 100 women interviewed by his team have said Girls Do Porn promised them the videos would never be widely distributed. "Plaintiffs’ counsel has spoken to well over 100 of these victims spanning from filming in 2009 until 2018, and each has each relayed a story identical to Plaintiffs," the lawyers representing the women said in a trial brief submitted to the San Diego Superior Court.

"I spiraled into a major depression, everyone made fun of me, my dad couldn’t even look at me, to this day some of my family wants nothing to do with me"

According to O'Brien, videos of at least 11 of the women involved in the case are still hosted on Pornhub.

Motherboard's investigation found that many women in Girls Do Porn videos erased their own online presences from the internet following doxing and bullying online, and private or public humiliation in real life.

Girls Do Porn is one of Pornhub's most popular channels and continues to upload videos to Pornhub, with the most recent video uploaded two weeks ago. Pornhub also pitches Girls Do Porn content as a reason to buy its paid, premium membership that gives users access to videos that aren't available for free.

How the alleged Girls Do Porn fraud works

Most Girls Do Porn videos begin the same way: A young woman sits on a hotel bed. A man off-camera chats with her about it being her first time filmed having sex and whether she's nervous.

Then, she has sex on camera, with a man whose face you never see.

The women in these videos were flown from around the country to San Diego by Girls Do Porn, to shoot a video that they allegedly were promised no one back home would ever see. The company, many of the women say, told them that the videos would be sold as DVDs to "private collectors" in Australia and New Zealand.

"I personally was told they would be sold on DVDs to another country and even asked again when I was in the car on my way to the hotel," one woman not attached to the lawsuit, who appeared in Girls Do Porn videos, told Motherboard. Motherboard granted the woman anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the videos.

"They also tried to pay me to tell other girls that everything went well and there were no consequences, but obviously before the videos were released on GDP [Girls Do Porn] then all over Pornhub," she said.

Other plaintiffs' depositions and testimonies in the Girls Do Porn case, as well as two first-person accounts from women who talked about their experiences online, similarly allege Girls Do Porn lied about how it would distribute the videos.

"When everything was released I spiraled into a major depression, everyone made fun of me, my dad couldn’t even look at me, to this day some of my family wants nothing to do with me," the woman who talked to Motherboard said.

The women suing Girls Do Porn allege that they were manipulated into signing contracts—sometimes under the influence of alcohol served by Girls Do Porn, or while being bullied by men in the hotel rooms where the scenes would take place, with a cameraman and male porn performer standing at the ready.

"The girls are lied to leading up to and while they're signing these agreements," O'Brien told Motherboard.

In a court filing, O'Brien alleges:

Just prior to filming, and after doing the model's makeup and hair, they [Girls Do Porn] present purported release agreements to sign and read to the young victims, which are missing terms, including price and their website – and while distracting the models, rushing the models, misrepresenting the content and alleged effect of the documents, and often having served the models alcohol (many of whom are underage – in fact, one plaintiff filmed the day after her 18th birthday, Mr. Pratt [one of Girls Do Porn's owners] and Defendants having recruited her to fly across the country for a sex video when she was a minor. Defendants provided her with a birthday cake during the filming process to emphasize her having just reached the age of consent).

The agreements they signed with Girls Do Porn are multi-page contracts full of fine legal print, and make no mention of the videos being posted online or even the name "Girls Do Porn," according to O'Brien. "So they do sign something, but they never get a copy of it. The first time they ever see it is in this litigation," he said.

"We cannot comment on specific issues relating to the models whose cases are going to trial soon," Aaron Sadock, an attorney who is defending Girls Do Porn, told Motherboard. "Generally, many adult-video content providers promote their websites by posting films on sites like Pornhub. The standard contract that my client entered with all of its models permits it to promote full length videos like any other adult website. We are confident that the contract will be upheld after a full consideration of all the facts at trial."

There are around 400 women featured on Girls Do Porn, and only 22 are suing the company. But O'Brien said he and his team has spoken to more than 100 women in Girls Do Porn videos who've had similar experiences.

The woman who spoke to Motherboard anonymously had the same experience, but wasn't even aware of the case until we contacted her.

"No one has ever reached out to me about it, nor did I feel like there was any point in trying to sue someone if I stupidly signed a contract that said they could do whatever they want with the video," she said.

How Pornhub enables doxing

As the 22 women who are suing Girls Do Porn explain in written testimonies provided to the court, posting these videos online, and specifically to hugely popular websites like Pornhub, has had a disastrous impact on their lives.

GirlsDoPorn.com, as a standalone website separate from Pornhub, still exists and charges for subscriptions. But its videos are also available on Pornhub as free shorter clips or longer "Pornhub Premium" content.

Multiple women who claim they were lied to by Girls Do Porn have said that they did not realize the videos were being widely distributed until they were featured on Pornhub. The women in the videos don't reveal their real names on camera, but once the videos were published on Pornhub, the real names of some were doxed by Pornhub users.

Do you have a news tip regarding harassment, doxing or adult content? You can contact Samantha Cole securely on Signal at 646-926-1726, Twitter direct message, encrypted email at samleecole@protonmail.ch, or email sam@motherboard.tv

On websites devoted to harassing and revealing the real identities of people in adult videos, internet users shared extensive personal information about women who were in Girls Do Porn videos, including photographs lifted from their social media accounts. This doxing led several of the women in Girls Do Porn videos to endure ongoing harassment, depression, and suicidal thoughts, according to court records, online posts, and an interview with Motherboard.

One of the women suing Girls Do Porn, listed in court documents as Jane Doe No. 6 said she "suffered emotional distress damages" because of the release of the video:

"I have contemplated suicide. I have cut myself. I became depressed, could not leave the house, and considered dropping out of school. People started to message me with video screenshots or they would send screenshots to my friends making fun of me. My mom knows of the video, which shames and humiliates me. I had to drop out of college to avoid ongoing harassment from classmates. I have been harassed at work about the video to the point that I had to quit. I am now scared to apply for new jobs. I get random requests on social media from strangers asking me to have sex with them. I live in fear every single day that I will run across someone that knows about the video. I am trying to move to another state soon."

Motherboard has found that women in Girls Do Porn videos are still being doxed on Pornhub today despite the ongoing litigation.

According to Pornhub's Terms & Conditions and a copy of the kind of contract partners like Girls Do Porn sign with Pornhub obtained by Motherboard, Pornhub retains the right to remove any video at any time.

"There’s a massive amount of consensual porn—anything that has complaints around it should be removed without harming their business model."

Pornhub did not answer Motherboard's specific questions about the doxing of women on its website. But Corey Price, a VP at Pornhub, said in a statement that “in instances that someone does upload non-authorized content or comes across non-consensual content, we encourage our users to flag such videos via our Content Removal submission form.”

“We here at Pornhub have always been proactive about providing individuals and performers with the resources to flag non-consensual material so that it may be taken down expeditiously,” he said. “We have always strongly condemned uploading non-authorized content to our platform and all uploaders must adhere to the same regulatory requirements that other businesses do. Our TOS only allows for users to upload content that they themselves own.”

Katelyn Bowden, founder and CEO of revenge porn activist group Badass, told Motherboard that her team is in contact with several moderators at Pornhub, who are typically responsive to takedown requests. But she said that Girls Do Porn itself hasn’t been cooperative with Badass at all.

"I hope Pornhub takes note of their failure to handle this responsibly, and removes these non-consensual videos quickly," Bowden said. "There’s a massive amount of consensual porn— anything that has complaints around it should be removed without harming their business model."

How Pornhub profits from videos that allegedly harm women

Some of the videos posted to Pornhub have been viewed more than 40 million times. The Girls Do Porn channel itself has been live for eight years and garnered more than 677 million views. Its ranking on Pornhub hovers around the 20th most popular channel. This is a massive amount of exposure for people who say they didn't want to be seen having sex on camera in the first place. And as they take their case to court, Pornhub continues to make money off of them.

Aside from being one of the platform's top-rated channels, Pornhub uses access to Girls Do Porn as a selling point for Premium subscriptions. Girls Do Porn is promoted on Pornhub's partnerships page, as both a "content partner" and a "Premium viewshare partner." Content partner videos are available for free, while viewshare videos are limited to Pornhub Premium subscribers. Viewshare videos generate more revenue for the partner than free, "content partner" videos.

For $9.99 per month, Pornhub Premium subscriptions offer users access to perks including more than 100,000 "premium" full-length videos, and ad-free viewing.

The "top shelf stuff," Pornhub says in its Premium frequently-asked questions page, comes from partners including Girls Do Porn.

Pornhub Premium viewshare partners have to sign a contract with Pornhub, according to another partner who asked to remain anonymous. According to a copy of the "content license agreement (viewshare)" contract provided to Motherboard, partners agree that their content does not "contain any matter which is defamatory, trade libelous, unlawfully threatening or unlawfully harassing," and stipulates that "all models or performers photographed, filmed or otherwise appearing in any Video must provide (and producer must make and retain a copy of) two valid pieces of identification demonstrating that they are at least 18 years of age on the day they are photographed, filmed or otherwise appearing."

According to court documents, the women suing Girls Do Porn allege they did sign waivers—but under duress, rushed, sometimes drunk and in hotel rooms—permitting the company to do what it wanted with the videos.

However, both the partner contracts and Pornhub's terms of use show that Pornhub can remove content whenever it wants. Pornhub "reserves the right to remove Content without prior notice," the Terms & Conditions state.

Either party—Pornhub or the partner—can also terminate the partnership at any time, for any reason.

According to Pornhub's Terms & Conditions, it doesn't "endorse any Content submitted to it by any user or other licensor, or any opinion, recommendation, or advice expressed therein, and the Websites expressly disclaims any and all liability in connection with Content."

In other words, Pornhub washes its hands of what people post there—even if they're posting content that's destroyed lives, and continues to do harm.

The full trial brief is accessible here.