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This Guy is Suing Pornhub For Using His Photo On Their Site Without His Permission

Photo from Federal court documents related to the lawsuit. Image censored by Fight the New Drug. 4 minute read. Imagine having your personal photo stolen and advertised...

Photo from Federal court documents related to the lawsuit. Image censored by Fight the New Drug. 4 minute read.

Imagine having your personal photo stolen and advertised on a porn site, and not realizing it for years. While this happens to people all the time with nonconsensual explicit images being shared without permission, it apparently can also include ads consumers see on porn sites.

That’s exactly what happened to Edward Kelly, a guy from New Jersey, whose friend told him that his photo was being used for an advertisement on one of the largest free porn sites on the internet—all without his knowledge, or consent.

The ad, which shows Kelly partially obscured by a mini-wall of Benjamins, invites viewers to “make $752/day like me.”

“See how I get it,” the ad teases. Kind of a vague and suspicious ad overall, no?

The suit says the picture was “taken and owned by” Kelly, who does not know “how his photo was extracted and/or disseminated.”

“Someone on Pornhub’s advertising team found the photo… and decided to use it in an ad campaign without (Kelly’s) consent,” it asserts.

The suit seeks more than $2 million for “general compensatory damages” and damages for emotional harm. In addition, it demands more than $1 million in “infringer’s profits” for the unauthorized use of the photo. Considering how the site received over 28.5 billion visits last year, and billions the year before, it’s safe to say that a lot of people have probably seen his photo. Yikes.

Pornhub sent online news source Gizmodo a statement from vice president Corey Price: “Although we don’t generally comment on preceding before courts, we would like to clarify that Pornhub did not create the ad in question. Our banner ads are run through third-party networks, on which advertisers directly place their content.”

The lawsuit does not say how or why Kelly created his photo, but indicates it’s been on Pornhub for at least six years.

What does this say about Pornhub?

If a photo that’s used without permission can exist in an ad that’s been running on the site for the last 6 years without anyone stopping it, is it a stretch to say that there might be other content on the site that’s also there without knowledge, consent, or permission of those portrayed?

There likely is.
Related: Inside The Industry: Performers Speak Out On Trafficking And Exploitation In Porn

With an entire section of the site dedicated to spycam porn and revenge porn, it’s reasonable to think that at least a few of those images and videos are up there nonconsensually.

Comparing porn to what happened to Edward Kelly and the porn that exists on the very same site may seem like a stretch for some. A knee-jerk reaction might say, “Those are totally different! In porn, performers give their consent!”

But do they? How could we know? Do we know for sure that anyone in any porn content gave their consent? Think about it for a minute.

What if someone didn’t give their consent to be on a porn site, or in porn at all?

Defenders of pornography make this argument all the time, that no matter how someone is treated in porn, it’s okay because they gave their consent. But what if he didn’t? What if she really didn’t want to be painfully dominated, humiliated, and sexually used for the world to see? The truth is, there’s often much more going on than what you see on the screen. That is, perhaps, the porn industry’s biggest, darkest secret: it’s not all consensual.

In porn, the question of consent can be tricky (and the growing phenomenon of amateur porn and rape fantasies makes it even trickier). For example, if one of the participants doesn’t know there’s a camera running, then the porn is not consensual, even if the sex is. Right? What if a person consented to be filmed, but not to have the film shown to anyone else? What if someone manipulated their partner into being filmed in the first place, like making him or her worry that they’d blackmail them if they didn’t cooperate? Or what if a person agreed to have sex, but in the middle, their partner suddenly started doing something that the person who initially gave consent didn’t expect? Did he or she still give consent? That’s a lot to consider for any given image or video.

The point is, when you consume porn, there’s no way to know what kind of “consent” the actors have given. You can’t assume just because someone appears in a porn video, that they knew beforehand exactly what would happen or that they had a real choice or the ability to stop what was being done. Similarly, you can’t assume that just because Edward Kelly’s image was on the site for 6 years, that he consented to it being there. Consent can never, and should never, be assumed.

Related: How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking

Not convinced? Here are real cases of porn performers who were trafficked into the industry, and here are more examples of industry abuse involving coercion on set—which is sex trafficking, by definition. And if you’d like more examples, here are a few more.

We’re not claiming that all porn is nonconsensual. We’re just pointing out that some of it is and some of it isn’t, and when you watch it there’s no way to know which is which, and there’s clearly not a foolproof system put in place for sites to scan and catch nonconsensual content.

So, would you buy from a company if you knew that some, but not all, of their products were made with child labor? Would you support a store that abused some, but not all, of their employees?

How can it be ethical to say that “porn is okay because participants give their consent,” when we know for a fact that some—probably much more than you think—do not?

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