that is distributed by means of various sectors of the Internet
, primarily via websites
, peer-to-peer file sharing
, or Usenet
newsgroups. While pornography had been traded over the Internet since the 1980s, it was the invention of the World Wide Web
in 1991 as well as the opening of the Internet to the general public around the same time that led to an explosion in online pornography.
Like videotapes and DVDs, the Internet has proved popular for distributing pornography because it allows people to view pornography (essentially) anonymously in the comfort and privacy of their homes. It also allows access to pornography by people whose access is otherwise restricted for legal or social reasons.
History and methods of distribution
While pornography had seen limited distribution over the Internet in the early 90's often as ASCII porn
, it was not until the Internet became more accessible to the general public that Internet pornography became a widespread phenomenon. Online distribution of pornography then often consisted of Internet users uploading scanned photos from adult magazines
to Usenet newsgroups
. This type of distribution was generally free (apart from fees for Internet access), and provided a great deal of anonymity. The anonymity made it safe and easy to ignore copyright
restrictions, as well as protecting the identity of uploaders and downloaders. Around this time frame, pornography was also distributed via pornographic Bulletin Board Systems
such as Rusty n Edie's
. These BBSes could charge users for access, leading to the first commercial online pornography (though not "Internet pornography," since BBSes were not accessed via the Internet).
The invention of the World Wide Web spurred both commercial and non-commercial distribution of pornography. The rise of pornography websites offering photos, video clips and streaming media including live webcam access allowed greater access to pornography.
Free vs. commercial
On the Web, there are both commercial and free pornography sites. The bandwidth usage of a pornography site is relatively high, and the income a free site can earn through advertising may not be sufficient to cover the costs of that bandwidth. One recent entry into the free pornography website market are Thumbnail gallery post
sites. These are free websites that post links to commercial sites, providing a sampling of the commercial site in the form of thumbnail
images, or in the form of Free Hosted Galleries
—samplings of full-sized content provided and hosted by the commercial sites to promote their site. Some free websites primarily serve as portals
by keeping up-to-date indexes of these smaller sampler sites. When a user purchases a subscription to a commercial site after clicking through from a free thumbnail gallery site, the commercial site makes a payment to the owner of the free site. There are several forms of sites delivering adult content.
The most common form of adult content is a categorized list (more often it's a table) of small pictures (called "thumbnails") linked to galleries. These sites are called a Thumbnail gallery post
(TGP). As a rule, these sites sort thumbs by category and type of content available on a linked gallery. Sites containing thumbs that lead to galleries with video content are called MGP (Movie Gallery Post). The main benefit of TGP/MGP is that surfer can get first impression of a content provided by gallery without actually visiting it. The most abusive form of TGP is a so called CJ (acronym for circlejerk), that contains links that mislead surfer to sites he or she actually didn't wish to see. This is also called a redirect.
Linklists unlike TGP/MGP sites do not list a huge amount of pictures. A linklist is a (frequently) categorised web list of links to so called "freesites*", but unlike TGP links are provided in a form of text, not thumbs. It's still a question which form is more descriptive to a surfer, but many webmasters trends that thumb for is more productive, and simplifies searching. On the other hand, LinkLists have large amount of unique text, so that helps them to improve their positions in search engine listings. TopLists are linklists whose internal ranking of freesites is based on incoming traffic from that freesites. Except that, freesites designed for TopLists have much more galleries.
Another free source of pornography on the Internet are the Usenet
newsgroups that were the first home to such material. Newsgroups tend to be poorly organized and flooded with content that is off-topic
. Commercial software and websites are available that allow browsing the images or videos on newsgroups, sometimes with galleries of thumbnail images.
file sharing networks provide another form of free access to pornography. While such networks have been associated largely with the illegal sharing of copyrighted music and movies, the sharing of pornography has also been a popular use for file sharing. Many commercial sites have recognized this trend and have begun distributing free samples of their content on peer-to-peer networks.
Internet pornography formats
Image files, particularly of the JPEG
format, are one of the most common formats for distributing pornography. Images may be either scanned into the computer from photographs or magazines, produced with a digital camera, or a frame
from a video.
Video files and streaming video
Video files formats such as MPEG
, and QuickTime
have been used to distribute pornographic video clips. More recently VCD
image files allow distribution of whole VCDs and DVDs. Many commercial porn sites exist that allow one to view pornographic streaming video. Recently (mid-2006), some Internet pornography sites have begun offering High Definition Video
content in WMV HD
Since mid-2006, advertising-supported free pornographic video hosting service websites based on the YouTube concept have appeared. Referred to as Porn 2.0, these sites generally use Flash technology to distribute videos that were uploaded by users; these include user-generated content as well as scenes from commercial porn movies and advertising clips from pornographic websites. Major contenders are Xtube, RedTube, PornoTube and YouPorn; in September 2007 Alexa's list contained YouPorn as the highest-ranked pornography website, belonging to the top-50 websites overall.
Another format of adult content that emerged with the advent of the Internet is live webcams
. It is unique as compared to images and movies in that it did not exist before the Internet
, and there is no offline equivalent. Webcam content can generally be divided into two categories: group shows offered to members of an adult paysite, and 1-on-1 private sessions usually sold on a pay-per-view basis. Currently the most popular video format for streaming live webcams is Flash Video FLV
Server-based webcam sex shows spur unique international economics: adult models in various countries perform live webcam shows and chat for clients in affluent countries. This kind of activity is sometimes mediated by companies which will set up websites, manage finances and maintain "office" space for the models to perform from. At times, such companies will exploit the models - making them work long shifts, and paying them only a small fraction of the money they collect from clients.
Other formats include text and audio files. While pornographic and erotic stories, distributed as text files
, web pages, and via message boards and newsgroups, have been semi-popular, audio porn, via formats like MP3
, have seen only very limited distribution. Audio porn can include recordings of people having sex or reading erotic stories. Pornographic magazines are available in Zinio
format, which provides a reader program to enable access.
Combination formats, such as webteases that consist of images and text have also emerged.
Since the Internet is an international network and there are currently no international laws regulating pornography, each country deals with Internet pornography differently. Generally, in the United States, if the act depicted in the pornographic content is legal in the jurisdiction that it is being distributed from then the distributor of such content would not be in violation of the law regardless of whether it is accessible in countries where it is illegal. This does not apply to those who access the pornography, however, as they could still be prosecuted under local laws in their country. Due to enforcement problems in anti-pornography laws over the Internet, countries that prohibit or heavily restrict access to pornography have taken other approaches to limit access by their citizens, such as employing content filters.
Many activists and politicians have expressed concern over the easy availability of Internet pornography, especially by minors. This has led to a variety of attempts to restrict children's access to Internet pornography such as the 1996 Communications Decency Act in the United States. Some companies use an Adult Verification System (AVS) to deny access to pornography by minors. However, most Adult Verification Systems charge fees that are substantially higher than the actual costs of any verification they do (for example, in excess of $10/month) and are really part of a revenue collection scheme where sites encourage users to sign up for an AVS system, and get a percentage of the proceeds in return.
In response to concerns with regard to children accessing age-inappropriate content, the adult industry, through the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP), began a self-labeling initiative called the Restricted to Adults label (RTA). This label is recognized by many web filtering products and is entirely free to use.
Most employers have distinct policies against the accessing of any kind of online pornographic material from company computers, in addition to which some have also installed comprehensive filters and logging software in their local computer networks.
One area of Internet pornography that has been the target of the strongest efforts at curtailment is child pornography. Because of this, most Internet pornography websites based in the U.S. have a notice on their front page that they comply with 18 USC Section 2257, which requires the keeping of records regarding the age of the people depicted in photographs, along with displaying the Name of the company record keeper. Some site operators outside the U.S. have begun to include this compliance statement on their websites as well.
On April 8, 2008 Evil Angel and its owner John Stagliano were charged in federal court with multiple counts of obscenity. One count was for, "using an interactive computer service to display an obscene movie trailer in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age."
Web filters and blocking software
A variety of content-control software
is available to block pornography and other classifications of material from particular computers or (usually company-owned) networks. Commercially available Web filters include Bess
, Net Nanny, SeeNoEvil, and others. Various work-arounds and bypasses are available for some of these products; Peacefire
is one of the more notable clearinghouses for such countermeasures.
The Internet has radically changed how child pornography is reproduced and disseminated, and, according to the United States Department of Justice, resulted in a massive increase in the "availability, accessibility, and volume of child pornography. The production of child pornography has become very profitable, bringing in several billion dollars a year, and is no longer limited to pedophiles. Philip Jenkins notes that there is "overwhelming evidence that [child pornography] is all but impossible to obtain through nonelectronic means.
The NCMEC estimated in 2003 that 20% of all pornography traded over the Internet was child pornography, and that since 1997 the number of child pornography images available on the Internet had increased by 1500%. Regarding internet proliferation, the US DOJ states that "At any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with 200 new images posted daily." They also note that a single offender arrested in the U.K. possessed 450,000 child pornography images, and that a single child pornography site received a million hits in a month. Further, that much of the trade in child pornography takes place at hidden levels of the Internet, and that it has been estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 pedophiles involved in organized pornography rings around the world, and that one third of these operate from the United States. Digital cameras and Internet distribution facilitated by the use of credit cards and the ease of transferring images across national borders has made it easier than ever before for users of child pornography to obtain the photographs and videos.
In 2007, the British-based Internet Watch Foundation reported that child pornography on the Internet is becoming more brutal and graphic, and the number of images depicting violent abuse has risen fourfold since 2003. The CEO stated "The worrying issue is the severity and the gravity of the images is increasing. We're talking about prepubescent children being raped." About 80 percent of the children in the abusive images are female, and 91 percent appear to be children under the age of 12. Prosecution is difficult because multiple international servers are used, sometimes to transmit the images in fragments to evade the law.
- Katrien Jacobs, Matteo Pasquinelli (eds), C’Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007. Web: www.networkcultures.org/netporn ISBN 9789078146032
- Katrien Jacobs, Netporn: DIY Web Culture and Sexual Politics, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. ISBN 9780742554320