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Porn pirates go unpunished

X-rated outlets mount day-and-date releases

The Motion Picture Assn. of America has declared war on movie piracy, but there’s one corner of the biz where piracy goes unpunished: the porn world.

Piracy has reached epidemic proportions in the multibillion-dollar adult entertainment industry, sapping as much as 20%-30% of the annual revenues of top porn producers like Wicked Pictures and Vivid Entertainment.

But porn purveyors are making so much money so quickly, many don’t mind being robbed.

“If someone’s stealing my stuff, I see it as great PR and great marketing,” says Nectar Entertainment CEO Sean Logan.

With its product available on easily duplicated DVDs, porn is more vulnerable to piracy than its mainstream counterpart.

“One Night in Paris,” the infamous Paris Hilton sex tape, was recognized at the AVN Awards in Las Vegas earlier this month as the year’s bestselling DVD with 500,000 units sold.

But Red Light District owner David Joseph estimates that there are more than half a million pirated copies of his product in circulation. And Wicked VP of special projects Joy King says it’s not uncommon to open a box of returns from a retailer and discover that half the copies are pirated materials.

“Every time we put a finger in the dam, we spring another leak,” says Jay Grdina, president of adult superstar Jenna Jameson’s production and distribution shingle, Club Jenna.

Club Jenna is especially susceptible to piracy, as it releases just two or three movies per year devoted to its famous CEO; most porn shingles produce dozens of titles each year. “We have a great demand and limited product,” Grdina says.

Club Jenna occupies the high-end side of the porn biz, along with companies like Vivid, Wicked and Digital Playground. These firms are known for making fewer films with higher production values, using contract girls who attract a strong fan base and build long-term library value.

Other operations concentrate on flooding the marketplace with titles of dubious quality. They’re made to be forgotten, and their producers have little interest in slowing the process to add encryption, much less in complaining if someone steals a copy.

“The name of the game is to make product as quickly and cheaply as possible,” says Sean Carney, director of marketing for Hustler Video and VCA.

Porn producers must contend with more than 250 distributors worldwide, which in turn sell their products to tens of thousands of Internet or bricks-and-mortar outlets. There’s opportunity for piracy at almost any link in the chain.

Porn producers aren’t MPAA member companies. But according to the U.S. Copyright Office, porn companies that submit their films for copyright protection are entitled to the same protections as their major studio counterparts.

Like Warner Bros. Pictures or the Walt Disney Co., Wicked and Vivid send two copies of each movie they make to the Library of Congress, along with a copyright form and a check to cover the $35 fee.

Six to nine months later, they receive certificates informing them that “Bella Loves Jenna” or “Road Trixxx” and all its associated images are protected under U.S. copyright laws — the same copyright protections extended to “The Polar Express” and “The Incredibles.”

“The people who (pirate porn movies) break two laws,” says Chicago-based First Amendment attorney J.D. Obenberger. “It’s a criminal copyright violation. And while they can steal the images, they can’t steal the records, which means you don’t have U.S. code 18 USC 2257 compliance. There’s no way to prove the age.”

Simply put, the producer of every porn or hardcore movie still must have a certificate of compliance stating that all subjects were over 18 at the time of photography. This section of the United States criminal code was instituted in 1988, after a scandal revealed that Traci Lords had been making porn movies (albeit with her own fake ID) since she was 15.

Cases of porn piracy have yet to be tried in U.S. courts, and Obenberger doubts they ever will.

“Those subpoenas for music downloaders are stepped up by millions in RIAA contributions,” he says. “In the porn world, no one takes their money. I don’t think you’ll ever see a criminal copyright case brought in the U.S. courts.”

Still, porn studios are doing their best to fight back. In a move stolen from the mainstream playbook, the largest porn studios are turning to global day-and-date distribution.

Until last year, release dates could vary wildly from country to country, with each distrib entrusted with licensing a master copy that it would duplicate in addition to creating cover art and, in some cases, local language tracks.

Steven Vlottes, head of international sales at Wicked, says his buyers preferred that method, since it allowed them to put their own logos on the product, but it also increased the potential for turnkey piracy.

“This gives us more control over the product,” Vlottes says.

Wicked also utilizes Macrovison, a copy protection software.

Some in Hollywood are hoping tech concerns in adult entertainment will yield solutions to tech problems plaguing the studios.

Wicked and VCA executives met last week with Cryptography Research, a San Francisco-based digital content security firm that works with MPAA companies.

Cryptography senior security architect Carter Laren says the meeting was arranged by a Hollywood exec who hoped the porn industry might settle the argument among studios over rival DVD formats — HD DVD vs. Blu-ray — just as porn pushed the world away from Betamax and toward VHS 20 years ago.

“The more informed people are about security, the better our business will be in the long term,” Laren says. “The technology is agnostic in terms of the content.”

Help may also come from Down Under in the form of the Adult Industry Copyright Organization, an Australian nonprofit dedicated to ferreting out and prosecuting porn piracy in Australia.

AICO is funded primarily by two major Australian porn distribs, CalVista and Gallery Entertainment, both of which are divisions of publicly traded companies. AICO’s member companies include Vivid, Wicked, Digital Playground and Pure Play, all of which have agreed to help AICO uncover and prosecute anyone who breaches adult film copyrights in Australia.

AICO will see its first case go to trial Feb. 3. If convicted, major adult DVD wholesaler Kaos Shop and its owner, Theo Armenis, could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and damages for selling pirated copies of Jameson movies such as “Conquest,” “Wicked Weapon” and “Jenna’s Built for Speed,” all produced by Wicked.

The biggest stumbling blocks to fighting porn piracy may lie within industry itself. Some people seem to be so delighted that they’re making a living from filming people having sex that loss of revenue becomes a secondary concern.

“It’s hard to get these people together on anything,” says Gardina, who says he’s frustrated by the lack of an organized antipiracy effort in the adult industry. “Some of them have no business sense or ethics. You want to ask, ‘Do you even know what a balance sheet is?’ “

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