Hundreds of people who were coerced into performing sex acts by GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys now have the full rights to their videos, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday. Given that revenge porn distributors have historically evaded punishment due to insufficient legal guidelines, copyright is a useful tool—copyright holders can fine websites up to $150,000 per image if they don’t comply with DMCA takedown requests.
GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys were sex trafficking operations whose leaders admitted that, from 2013 to 2019, they convinced victims to make adult videos by lying that their imagery would only be sold to private collectors abroad and not posted online. They’d then post the videos on the GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys websites, which presented themselves as consensual amateur adult sites.
The videos persisted with repeat reuploads to other tube sites like PornHub, a problem that has historically tormented anyone who’s needed to get their videos removed. In October, 50 victims of GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys won a settlement with MindGeek, owner of the PornHub and tube site empire; the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Copyright in a settlement agreement is “standard practice” for attorneys representing victims of nonconsensual pornography, Erica Johnstone, co-founder of the nonprofit legal privacy advocacy group Without My Consent, told Gizmodo.
“Copyright is one of the few laws we’ve had during the first generation of the commercial internet where platforms had a business incentive to take down content and build out automated portals for making this a streamlined process,” Johnstone said. Holding businesses accountable motivates platforms to assign a registered DMCA agent with the Copyright Office to facilitate takedowns, Johnstone added, and copyright empowers the holder to subpoena a platform for information about the alleged infringer.
Victims said in lawsuit filings that GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys lured them into conversations by posing as a modeling agency in Craigslist ads, with links to fake sites, offering modeling gigs in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. They eventually offered thousands of dollars to make adult videos and connected potential victims with fake performers who convinced them that they’d enjoyed the experience, according to the suit.
The company leaders flew the victims out to San Diego, according to filings, and pursue them with constant texts and emails if they changed their minds. Some victims attested that the traffickers criticized their appearance as justification to chop down their pay and plied them with drugs and alcohol. According to the Department of Justice, they threatened to sue, cancel flights, or post the videos online if the victims didn’t go through with the entire shoot. They lied that shoots would take 30 minutes when they in fact took hours and blocked the exit with camera equipment, the DOJ said.
In addition to granting rights to the videos, a federal judge ruled that GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys must return them and that all of the fraudulent “model agreements” are void. The ruling is part of a restitution order against one of the leaders, performer Ruben Andre Garcia, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion. Garcia has also been ordered to pay victims $18 million. Michael James Pratt, identified by law enforcement as “the ringleader,” remains at large, but his trial is set to begin in June 2022. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.