UK performer and blogger Pandora Blake’s website Dreams of Spanking provides an excellent example of how much control billing companies have over the content of a website. In May, Blake received an email from CCBill informing her that several of the pages on her site violated their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and would need to be changed in order for her to continue using their service for subscriptions on her website. The initial changes they demanded were the removal of all instances of the words “non-consent,” “force,” and “rape,” regardless of context. As CCBill continued to review the site, their required changes broadened, ultimately requiring her to remove several full videos and photosets. The changes that Blake wound up making to keep her site going included:
- Removing all uses of the word “rape,” even if it didn’t refer to actual, physical rape. In one case, Blake altered the description of a science-fiction scene to read “telepathic ravishment” instead of “telepathic rape.”
- Removing all scenes or language that seemed to imply ageplay, even when the performers were clearly adult. One scene’s description changed from saying that the character changes “into her little girl clothes” to ” into her jammies.”
- Removing all scenes where CCBill considered the models to show excessive bruising or redness after a spanking. In one birching scene, CCBill objected to a single, small drop of blood on a male model’s buttocks. Blake was able to edit it out and keep the photoset.
- Removing all scenes in which a sword was pointed at the model. This sounds like a unique request at first, but one of the most charming things about Dreams of Spanking is that it is shamelessly nerdy. It’s spanking porn for geeks, and several of the scenes include sword duels. Even though the swords are wooden bokken (practice samurai swords), rubber LARPing swords, or fencing foils with rubber tips, they were still too threatening for CCBill’s standards.
The situation that Pandora Blake faced was neither unique nor new. Stories about sex workers or adult entertainment sites who are shut down by credit card companies are legion. In 2012, Maggie and Ned Mayhem of Meet the Mayhems suddenly found their income cut off when Visa and Mastercard decided that the site’s content violated . The most contentious item was a masturbation photoset that showed Maggie using two rosaries to masturbate. A banner advertising a girl-girl shoot in a vineyard had to be removed; the red wine spilled over the models’ bodies made it look too much like a lesbian vampire scene. They also had to remove one picture because it showed an action figure that was holding a gun. And finally, when Maggie and Ned tried to write about their frustrations in a blog entry, that too had to be removed at the behest of Visa: Maggie and Ned were told that their site couldn’t mention Visa other than to accept payments.
“These rules impact indie, self-published porn,” Maggie says. She explains that big companies have more options available to them and they don’t have to jump quite as promptly. “It’s easier to make ‘forbidden’ porn as a mainstream corporation,” she says. “The rules are nebulous, subject to change at a moment’s notice, and you’re charged 20-30% of each subscription, whereas non-adult is looking at 3-6%.”
So, according to CCBill’s rules, how could Pandora Blake have avoided being forced to make so many changes and deletions to keep Dreams of Spanking up? Looking at the AUP that CCBill cited, it’s hard to be sure. The sections of the AUP that bear directly on adult content forbid “words, images, or descriptions that would lead someone to believe that the models are less than 18 years of age;” and depictions of “extreme violence, incest, snuff, scat or the elimination of any bodily waste on another person, mutilation or rape… in a sexual or erotic manner.” To anyone with more than a passing familiarity with modern porn, little of Pandora Blake’s content is likely to be “extreme.” Sex writer Violet Blue wryly describes it as “about a 3 on the scale of zero to Kink.com.” The AUP contains no language about weapons; if rubber and wooden swords constitute “extreme violence,” then that must surely establish a new standard for modern media to follow.
Where Blake may be on the shakiest ground is with depictions of non-consent and ageplay, which are specifically mentioned in the AUP. But even there, the language emphasized that webmasters can’t make it seem like the models are actually under 18. Making her strike all incidences of “non-consent” actually stifled nuanced discussion of how to articulate and negotiate sexual consent. Such discussions are essential to ending rape culture, rather than perpetuating it.
As of this writing, CCBill has not responded to requests for comment on how they apply the terms of the AUP to adult content.
Most media coverage of the Internet focuses on how much privacy we’ve lost. What we sometimes miss is that we’ve also lost public space. The web is almost entirely privatized: the servers, the network cables, the sites themselves are all privately owned. You might have a right to walk and talk on public streets, but your right to do so on the Internet is entirely dependent on those who own the hardware and software running the web. As Pandora Blake found out, even money has been thoroughly privatized on the Internet. The money that we use for transactions on the Web is minted by Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Paypal.
Government censorship becomes redundant in such an entirely privatized environment. The concept of free speech is one that developed alongside the assumption of a public commons, open to all. But while the Internet appears to have expanded the public square sometimes even to have made it universal it has in fact shrunk. The hidden nature of speech on the Internet is that even after you publish your ideas, the paper and ink they’re on still belongs to someone else. Journalist A.J. Liebling famously said that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” In the age of the Internet, who actually owns the printing presses?
If there’s one good thing to have come out of this, it’s that Pandora Blake’s efforts to make ethical, pervy nerd spanking porn have gotten a little more exposure. For those who love her work, or want to take a look at it, she’s posted all of the censored videos and photosets on an alternative website, available as free downloads.