River Lovett makes erotic films. To most viewers, they’d be considered artfully pornographic—definitely “adult.” And for the last six months, she’s been able to fund them in part through subscription-crowdfunding site Patreon.
Now, she’s on the verge of being banned from the site, following updated guidelines that make it more difficult for adult content creators to continue using the site to fund their creations.
So far, Patreon’s response has been trying to have it both ways. On one hand, the company insists that porn was never allowed on its platform. On the other hand, it has attempted to reassure adult content creators that it's not going to suddenly give them the boot: If their pages weren’t in violation of its rules before, they probably weren’t at any risk now. "Most folks — literally *most* creators by multiple factors of ten — even in the adult communities — have nothing to be concerned about,” CEO of Patreon Jack Conte wrote in a blog post on October 25. "I hope you understand that nothing has changed except our stance on four areas of content: bestiality, incest, sexual depiction of minors, and suggestive sexual violence," he said (his bolding).
That doesn't appear to be the case for Lovett, who's been funding adult content on Patreon without issue for six months, but is now being told that adult content is no longer allowed on the site, according to emails from Patreon to Lovett that Motherboard has seen.
Since starting her page, Lovett says she has contacted customer service on several occasions to help get her account up and running—so she assumes that Patreon’s always been aware of what kind of content she makes. They helped her make it. Patreon might insists that there has been no change in its policy regarding porn, but this is one clear case where there has been a difference in how that policy was enforced.
On October 25, Buzzfeed published a story about the concern coming from Patreon’s adult creators, and quoted Lovett, who outlined how difficult it is for sex workers to find a platform that doesn’t discriminate against them. When Patreon announced last year that it would end payment discrimination against adult content, the news was huge for sex workers who struggle to find a way to get paid without exorbitant fees.
Twelve days later, she received her first notice from Patreon that her account was violating its guidelines concerning porn. “Please remove any pornographic content and links from your page,” a representative told her in an email.
After a series of emails, each time requesting Lovett remove more of the adult content on her page—links out to erotic videos, content that included penetration, masturbation or vagina play, and pornographic content as rewards—she’s reached a point where they’re almost nothing left, except for a link out to her Lovett Film website, which Patreon also said is violating the guidelines. The Patreon rep told her on Wednesday that they’d be back in touch to see that she’s made the changes, at which point Lovett expects Patreon will ban her from the site.
A spokesperson for Patreon told me in an email that it has seen an increase in communication with adult content creators. “Our open invitation for creators to contact us if they had any questions has been well-received,” they said. “In addition, we committed to growing the size of our Trust and Safety team and have more than doubled the size of the team since July, which has given the team more bandwidth to support creators.”
It's worth noting that the Patreon representative who contacted Lovett is clear, responsive, and polite. It is a civil, nice exchange. In this respect, Patreon is keeping true to its word that real humans will review individual cases and explain to adult content creators what they can do to keep their pages running. The problem is that in Lovett's case the only way to keep her page running is removing any trace of the reason she created it in the first place: adult content.
The company has made an appearance of effort to bring influential adult creators in to consult on how to handle this shift. Violet Blue, a journalist and Patreon content creator, visited the Patreon offices to consult with the team there. “Hang in there,” she wrote in a blog post following the meeting.
Liara Roux, who helped begin the Open Letter to Patreon as a response to the guidelines, emailed Conte on October 28, requesting that they open up a direct line of communication about the concerns adult creators had about the company's new policy. Roux showed me the email thread: Two days later, Conte responded, offering to set up a meeting in-person at Patreon’s San Francisco offices. The meeting was arranged for November 10.
But on the evening before the meeting was set to take place, around 9:45 p.m. PST, Conte’s team canceled without explanation. After this story was first published on Friday Morning, Patreon reached out to Roux again, apologized, and once again made arrangements to meet with her on November 10.
"We remain committed to working with all creators by providing one-on-one guidance when requested or needed," a Patreon spokesperson told me in an email. "As part of this commitment we have reached out to Liara Roux and have arranged an in person meeting today, November 10th."
Before the meeting was canceled, Alex Austin of Austin Law Group, who is representing Roux and acts as legal counsel for dozens of adult businesses including the adult fetish site Kink.com, told me in an email that they were going into the meeting hoping to reach a positive outcome. "It seems to me that Patreon may be using a bait and switch tactic with their loyal adult content based members,” she said. “It's beginning to border on artistic censorship which is something we will take legal action on if it continues.”
Some of Patreon’s highest-earning creators are in the adult category or flagged as NSFW, according to publicly available data, but many of these high-earners remain unaffected. Lovett said she views it as unethical for the company to enforce the rules for some creators and not others, especially when users with much larger patron counts and earnings seem to continue unaffected.
“I think they and a lot of other creators think they are safe because Patreon has yet to officially ban anyone for their new definition of ‘porn’ and assume Patreon won't enforce the new rules, but they definitely are,” she said. “They are just trying to do it as low key as possible.”
Update: This story has been updated to reflect that, after this story was first published, Patreon made new arrangements to meet with Liara Roux to discuss adult content on its platform.