Posted August 21st, 2019.
As It Appeared On
Welcome back for another week of What’s Next, where we report on the intersection of law and technology. This week, we catch up with John O’Brien of The O’Brien Law Firm as he takes GirlsDoPorn.com to trial this week in San Diego. Plus, the Ninth Circuit rules that border officials don’t have unfettered access to our phones after all. And Verizon goes after 5G fees. Let’s chat: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter at @a_lancaster3.
This week, 22 women are taking the operators of GirlsDoPorn.com (GDP) to trial. The 2016 lawsuit alleges that GDP owners Michael Pratt and Matthew Wolfe, as well as actor and recruiter Andre Garcia, told the women that their pornographic videos would be sold to a private buyer or for limited distribution overseas in Australia. Instead, the videos were featured online, and many of the women’s identities leaked to family, friends, schools and work.
The bench trial before Judge Kevin Enright, has faced some procedural hurdles. First, Michael Pratt filed for bankruptcy in January and aimed to take the action to federal court. Instead, the case was remanded, and Pratt dropped his bankruptcy case, “indicating that the filing and removal was solely for the purposes of delaying the state court litigation,” wrote Chief Judge Laura Taylor of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of California. The bankruptcy court sanctioned Pratt $110,000 for bringing a frivolous bankruptcy action. Ahead of the start of this week’s trial, the judge agreed to maintain the anonymity of the Jane Does listed in the lawsuit. However, lawyers for GDP, which include Aaron Sadock of the Panakos Law and Daniel Kaplan of the Law Offices of Daniel A. Kaplan, appealed that decision to both the The Fourth District Court of Appeal and the California Supreme court. For now, the women will remain anonymous.
Although the suit is a fraud case, the litigation could have important implications for women and sex workers’ online privacy in the digital era. John O’Brien of The O’Brien Law Firm APLC said the legal team will argue that the videos should be taken down from the internet to the extent possible, and that the women should be awarded compensatory and punitive damages. “GirlsDoPorn.com profits about $50,000 per video,” O’Brien said. “And they pay the girls based on their lie about $3,000 to $7,000, depending on how attractive or how much trouble it is for them to coerce the girl out there. We’re asking for punitive damages, because we think the whole company is based on oppression, and malicious and fraudulent conduct,” said O’Brien, who is joined by Edward Chapin of Sanford Heisler Sharp and Brian Holm of The Holm Law Group.
The plaintiffs are also seeking an injunctive request that GDP must disclose who they are and the true conditions of their arrangement. “If they’re somehow allowed to continue in the pornography business, they should not be allowed to use fake names or present contracts at 1 a.m. in a hotel room with no chance to read them and lying about them,” he said.
Sadok and Kaplan claim they never promised that they would limit distribution to a single buyer or DVD release. Even if they had made verbal agreements that the videos would not be posted online, “the women would have discovered the fraud upon being handed the single page contract that gave [GirlsDoPorn] complete discretion to use the videos any way it wished,” Sadok and Kaplan write in their trial brief.
Another claim that the women hope to prove in trial is that the defendants leaked their identities as a marketing technique. “After these girls are promised this video is going to be done under certain conditions, including anonymity and no internet exposure, somehow the videos get shared with the friends and hometown and social media of these girls. The defendants are the only ones with this information. We allege that it helps it go viral throughout wherever they’re going to college.”
After all, Michael Pratt owned or controlled Porn Wikileaks for a period of time, O’Brien said. The website is built to dox women in porn and had a page that was devoted to GDP, which was taken down after the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, O’Brien said. GDP subscribers, who pay between $29 to $59 a month, are often active participants in finding out who the first-time porn actresses are. “They blog about it, and there’s a forum,” he said. “If you go on Reddit or PornWikiLeaks, there’s chatter about who’s girl #405. And then someone will say, ‘Oh I think it’s Sally Smith, and here’s her Facebook.’ And then someone will tag onto it and say, ‘Here’s her boyfriend. I found his Instagram.’ And they all get harassed.”
Porn site Pornhub has worked with the plaintiffs’ team to take down the videos involving the 22 Does, but still hosts a GDP channel on its platform. O’Brien said he’s not thrilled that Pornhub continues to work with the company.
“Our position is that the whole business is a fraudulent and unfair business practice, and the plaintiffs’ counsel, including me, in this case have spoken with many, many other women, not just the women suing, and it seems to be a very common theme with this website that they don’t tell the truth,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that the women likely hope the outcome of the case will lead to a greater adhearance to a pornography worker Bill of Rights laid out by advocacy group Free Speech Coalition. O’Brien has also sought the guidance of pornography talent agents, who are licensed by the state of California. “I think ideally our clients would say people like GirlsDoPorn should need a talent agent license, so what they’re claiming is monitored by the state,” O’Brien said. “The ramifications of these transactions are arguably more than somebody buying a house or hiring a lawyer. These girls’ lives have been ruined. And no one is paying attention to what these guys are telling them, what the contracts say, when they’re presented. I would think our clients would want more legalities around how these transactions occur.”
You can follow the case on The Recorder and Law.com as reporter Scott Graham relays the goings-on from the crowded courtroom in San Diego.