Porn industry innovates itself to death

Summary:The porn industry's drive for technology innovation may have seen it cut off its own foot.

The online pornography industry has adopted new technologies so successfully that it's in danger of innovating itself out of existence, according to author Jeff Sparrow.

"Increasingly, the porn industry's been dominated by pornographic versions of YouTube — various file-tube sites — that aggregate content. And, of course, the first people to do this make squillions of dollars because they get so much traffic, but the model itself is not financially sustainable," Sparrow said.

"It's rather akin to what The Huffington Post, say, is doing to the news media."

Sparrow, a research fellow at Victoria University in Melbourne, is the author of a new book called Money Shot: a journey into porn and censorship.

As Sparrow explains in this week's Patch Monday podcast, the porn industry has always taken advantage of new technology, from analog film and videocassette through to digital technologies, like DVD to internet downloads, and now live streaming to personal mobile devices.

"If you look at the history of the internet, an awful lot of the particular technologies, from video streaming to credit card encryption facilities, was driven by the porn industry," he said.

"The big Hollywood production studios are very conservative when it comes to new technology, because they've got so much invested in it, whereas it's pornographers who are prepared to push the envelope."

But now, technology has reduced production costs, and all but wiped out distribution costs, which has been Australia's traditional role — to distribute the US' content. Add this to the ease of creating free content, and the industry is doing it tough.

"In a weird kind of way, the porn industry now is starting to become a victim of its own success," Sparrow said. "The people that I spoke to suggested that the porn industry at the moment is going through a severe downturn."

Sparrow also discusses internet censorship, particularly Australia's attempts to introduce internet filtering .

"There's no easy way that any of these proposals for filters are ever going to work. There's always possibilities to get around them if you want," he said.

Just like child-protection expert Karen Flanagan from Save the Children Australia told us in March 2010 , Sparrow believes that it's better to empower people to deal with the potential risks of pornography, rather than try to ban it and, inevitably, fail.

But while Sparrow is against the idea of censorship, his viewpoint is far more nuanced than "internet freedom good, Australian Christian Lobby bad".

"The Australian porn laws are a weird historically evolved strata, and it's really important to understand that history, because they don't make any sense without it," he said, particularly regarding the subtleties of what counts as an acceptable X-rated film and what is effectively banned as Refused Classification .

To leave an audio comment on the program, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

Running time: 41 minutes, 30 seconds.

Disclosure: Stilgherrian provided Jeff Sparrow with some unpaid advice on and contacts related to the politics of internet censorship.

Topics: Government, Australia, Government : AU

About

Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust. He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit tr... Full Bio

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