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A Group Of Women Sued Girls Do Porn For Coercing Them Into Doing Videos. Now They Own All The Rights.

"It gives the power back to the people who had it taken away without their consent."

Posted on January 3, 2020, at 7:52 p.m. ET

John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune / ZUMA Press

Ed Chapin, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, gives his opening statement in August.

Lured to San Diego by online ads seeking models for photo shoots, nearly two dozen women say they were pressured to sign dense contracts in hotel rooms where they were given drugs and alcohol and pushed into doing porn. A short time later, that footage was posted on GirlsDoPorn.com and other popular websites, where many of the women said viewers found and published their full names online, resulting in severe harassment.

Now, after a years-long legal battle, a California judge on Thursday not only ordered Girls Do Porn to pay the 22 women $12.7 million in damages, but took a rare — and potentially game-changing — step of granting them ownership rights to the content.

"It's an extraordinarily unique and incredibly valuable decision," Ben Bull, vice president and general counsel at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told BuzzFeed News. "It will blaze a trail for other law firms and victims to come behind them and essentially do the same thing."

The decision comes about four years after the women first took action against the San Diego–based adult film site, which creates and advertises videos featuring young "amateur" teens and college students who are usually about 18 to 20 years old.

In the 2016 lawsuit, the Jane Does, who were all between the ages of 17 and 22 at the time, said Girls Do Porn duped them into creating videos based on the understanding that the content would only be for a private collector, sold outside the US, or for a limited-release DVD.

Once flown to San Diego, the women said, they were put in hotel rooms set up for porn films and pressured to sign long, complicated contracts with hardly any time to read them. They were also often threatened to participate and given drugs and alcohol before the shoots, the judge said.

Above all, the young women were promised that their identities would be protected and that the videos and their real names would never be shared online. However, Girls Do Porn distributed the films shortly after shooting, and the videos ended up on hugely popular sites like Pornhub and YouPorn, garnering millions of views apiece.

One young woman said she considered suicide. An 18-year-old testified that she couldn't move back to her small hometown in Canada because people had been sending the video around and posting screenshots to Instagram. Her mother found out about the video on Facebook.

“Defendants’ tactics have caused the videos to become common knowledge in plaintiffs’ communities and among their relations and peers — the very thing that plaintiffs feared and that defendants expressly assured them would not happen,” San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright wrote in his decision. “As a result, plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer far-reaching and often tragic consequences.”

Enright also called the operation a "fraudulent scheme" that targeted young women who "are mostly students with careers ahead of them who have only even considered Defendants' solicitations to film a pornographic video due to some immediate and pressing financial need."

He ordered Girls Do Porn's founder, Michael James Pratt, 36, his business partner, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and porn actor Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, to hand over all images, videos, likenesses, and copyrights and to take "active steps" to remove them from circulation.

Meanwhile, the men still face federal charges of sex trafficking and producing child porn. Wolfe and Garcia are in custody. Pratt fled the US and is now a fugitive.

Attorneys for the men could not immediately be reached, but in a statement to Courthouse News Service, they said their clients "are focused on defending themselves against the criminal charges."

"The government’s burden of proof in the criminal case is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ which is a much higher standard than in this civil lawsuit where the burden of proof is a mere preponderance of the evidence," the attorneys added. "The findings of fact in the civil case do not carry over to the criminal case where the government will have to prove the facts under a much more stringent standard."

From now on, Girls Do Porn is required to explicitly state in recruitment postings that the videos will be posted online. Participants must also get copies of the contracts before arriving, and sign off on their names or personal information being used, Enright ruled.

"It's vindication for the brave women who came forward after being manipulated and lied to by GirlsDoPorn," Ed Chapin, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told BuzzFeed News. "They were young and inexperienced, and their lives were changed because they were sucked in by this disgusting, fraudulent scheme."

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Obtaining ownership rights under the court ruling is such a big deal because it's nearly impossible to force sites like Pornhub to remove content once it is uploaded, attorneys and experts said, even if it had been created and published without a person's consent.

"I have never heard of that happening before," said Alison Boden, the CEO of Kink.com and a leading voice in the adult entertainment industry. "In this case it gives the power back to the people who had it taken away without their consent."

Boden, who has been in the adult industry for 15 years and is helping spearhead consent and transparency initiatives, pointed out that legitimate producers and companies do not use false and misleading practices to recruit women like Girls Do Porn allegedly did. She told BuzzFeed News she hopes this case helps weed out other shady and "criminal" operations.

Finding and erasing every video, screenshot, or repurposed clip from the internet will still be a challenging task; but with the judge's ruling, the women now have the right and agency to do so, which is a significant step.

"Getting the copyrights back is a big deal," Boden said. "These women could now, theoretically, hire someone to search for all this content that they now own the copyright to and issue a [Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice] to get it taken down. I highly suggest they do that."

Meanwhile, Girls Do Porn continues to actively recruit new models.

"Hundreds of women reached out to us during this process," Chapin said. "Their advertisements would say 'College women sought for video shoots for $5,000.' If you're young and need help, it's kind of a no-brainer. They had no idea."

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