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Sex and the Law

Witnessing Transformation – Performers into Producers

The beginning of a new year in the adult entertainment industry is always filled with excitement, trade shows, and hopes for success in the year ahead.  Now is also the time when the industry tries to identify upcoming trends in production and distribution of erotic content.  Fresh in the minds of many performers and producers are the battles over condom laws, and production moratoria resulting from STD outbreaks. This, combined with advances in technology and plummeting DVD sales, has encouraged many performers to explore alternative forms of erotic entertainment to fill the gaps between shoots.  Some choose escorting or headlining at strip clubs.  But many others have turned to lucrative live webcam performances and custom video-production.

The effect of these erotic alternatives has been to cut out the middlemen; i.e., the talent agencies, producers, and photographers.  All that’s required is a webcam, a good broadband connection, and a knack for turning on your target audience.  Many webcam platforms and escort advertising networks allow the performer to take control of his or her content production and therefore, directly profit from the work.  With a little creativity and work ethic, some performers have found that webcam performances or custom, amateur videos can be even more lucrative than professional porn shoots.  The new middleman is the webcam platform provider or the clips sales studio.

Interestingly, as technology fosters a more one-on-one interaction, the tastes of typical erotica consumers have evolved as well.  Why lust after the unattainable blonde bombshell, when that webcam performer with the ‘girl next door’ look might actually be the girl next door?   The evolution of technology has allowed the performer to create, market, and distribute their material, all the while inviting customers into their reality.  The average porn consumer now wants to know things like what their favorite performer had for breakfast, how they get dressed in the morning, and their plans for the evening.  Call it a byproduct of a reality TV-obsessed culture, or just living in the age of social networking; all the world’s a stage and performers are more than willing to share the intimate details of their lives with customers.  Ten years ago, an autographed DVD might have been a prized possession for a devoted fan.  Now, last night’s panties are up for grabs – for the right price.  Some performers may even go the extra mile and engage in intimate contact with fans on camera, as a promotional tool.  The popularity of this type of interactive sex and performer/fan dynamic was even the focus of HBO’s premiere of SEX/NOW; the network’s reboot of Real Sex.    

So what does this mean for the performer now turned producer of his or her own material?  Most importantly, all of the legal obligations that used to be handled by the producer, photographer, talent agent or other intermediary now fall squarely on the performer.  These legal concerns include Section 2257 records keeping compliance, content clearance, licensing of rights, copyright registration, fair use concerns and trademark issues.  Can I show that painting in the background of my cam shot?  Will the RIAA come after me if I play music during my cam show?  Just because technology allows a seamless transition from performer to producer, does not necessarily mean that the law does the same.

Most cam performers are unaccustomed to dealing with these technical issues and mundane legal obligations – particularly if they have relied on professional producers to handle such matters in the past.  In some ways, we’re all in the same boat.  Anyone who posts a comment on Facebook, or a review on Amazon, is a worldwide publisher.  Anyone who uploads a picture to a blog or forum is a media producer.  That power triggers significant legal obligations.  Issues like defamation, fair use, and commercial exploitation used to be the exclusive province of powerful media stakeholders like the New York Times or NBC.  Now, these issues impact anyone with a smart phone or social networking account.  Add on the additional layer of legal regulation imposed on erotic content, and performers can often become overwhelmed with compliance issues.  With industry-specific devices and applications expressly designed to simplify the process of production and publication, technology can help ease the burden, but only to an extent.  Autonomy requires proactive measures.  If performers wish to capitalize on self-production trends and continue forging virtual relationships with their fan base, the keys to success are education and preventative solutions.  The performer turned producer must learn to recognize the legal issues before they become legal problems.

 

Lawrence G. Walters heads up Walters Law Group, which has advocated for the adult entertainment industry and Free Speech issues for 25 years.  Nothing contained in this post is intended as legal advice.