Judge Sides with Survivors of CSAM in Powerful Ruling Against MindGeek 

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Just a few years ago, holding online pornography websites accountable under the law for their hand in hosting, distributing, and profiting from child sexual abuse, rape, and sex trafficking material seemed to many to be an impossible task. But the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) Law Center believed differently and, as a result, today survivors of child sex trafficking and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) posted to pornography websites like Pornhub and other MindGeek-owned platforms are one step closer to justice. In a powerful development in favor of the cause for survivors of these crimes, the class action lawsuit Doe #1 et al v. MG Freesites LTD et al has been allowed to move forward despite MindGeek’s attempts to dismiss the case.  

The judge’s ruling, which can be read in full here, represents a significant victory as it is a first in the nation federal court decision finding that an online platform can be held civilly liable for knowing possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). In this case, Plaintiffs’ have alleged MindGeek was aware of and even encouraged the uploading of CSAM to its various websites and monetized illegal material through advertising revenue.  

Pornhub and its parent company, MindGeek, have been the center of much controversy and have been implicated in many stories of abuse and exploitation. Furthermore, they have consistently enabled, promoted, and profited from racist materialsexist material, and material featuring the abuse of LGBTQ+ individuals over the years.

The lawsuit represents two survivors of childhood sexual exploitation whose abuse was filmed and uploaded to websites like Pornhub, forever immortalizing the trauma and pain while simultaneously fueling MindGeek’s profits and growth.  

As detailed in the filed complaint, Plaintiff Jane Doe #1 was just 16 years old when she was drugged and raped by an adult male who filmed the abuse. That same man entered into a profit-sharing relationship with MindGeek under its verified Modelhub program which allowed both the trafficker and MindGeek to share profits from views and downloads of Jane Doe #1’s victimization. MindGeek reviewed, categorized, tagged, and disseminated the images and videos depicting the rape and sexual exploitation of sixteen-year-old Jane Doe #1.  

When Plaintiff Jane Doe #2 was still a minor, a sex trafficker forced Jane Doe #2 to participate in the creation of sexually explicit videos. Those videos of adults engaging in sex acts with Jane Doe #2 while she was a minor were uploaded and disseminated through websites owned, operated and/or controlled by MindGeek. 

At no time did MindGeek or Pornhub attempt to verify either Plaintiffs’ identity, age, inquire about their status as victims of trafficking, or otherwise protect or warn against their traffickers before or while the videos of them being violated and abused were sold, downloaded, viewed, and otherwise advertised on Pornhub.  

MindGeek’s Motion to Dismiss, Explained

For years, MindGeek has grown a multibillion-dollar pornography empire that was only made possible by a business model that is predicated on sexual harm (the details of which can be found in both the original filed complaint and the new ruling). However, the company attempted to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on assertions that MindGeek, operating as an Internet Service Provider (ISP), is automatically immune from any liability because of CDA 230 because it cannot be held responsible for content posted by third parties.  

But in this historic ruling, the judge rejected any assertion that CDA 230 immunity covers the knowing possession and transmission of CSAM. The court said: 

“.…Defendants, through their ownership and operation of Pornhub and other sites, are no different than the thousands of individuals who are convicted of non-production child pornography offenses in the United States each year…Frankly, if true, the Court would not be surprised to see at least some of the defendants prosecuted for such offenses.”  

The judge also made a significant and landmark holding that said CSAM cannot be compared to “information” like the law outlines, but instead said such material “is illegal contraband, stemming from the sexual abuse of a child, beyond the covering of First Amendment protection, and wholly outside any other protection or immunity under the law, including Section 230.” 

Additionally, the ruling detailed the ways in which MindGeek not only hosted CSAM, but took an active role in creating such content through tools such as hashtags, thumbnails, and lax moderation procedures that encouraged the production of such content and made it easy for users to find it. As such, MindGeek’s attempts to dismiss the case were thoroughly denied.  

Child sexual abuse material is NOT protected speech. It is illegal and deeply abusive material that cannot be allowed to run rampant on the Internet.  

What’s Next for Doe v. MindGeek and Similar Lawsuits 

Through civil litigation, survivors can stand up to these corporations, shine a light on their exploitive and tortuous conduct, and get some measure of justice and relief in the form of monetary damages. It is clear that MindGeek financially benefitted from the trafficking and paid rape of these survivors when they were children. They must be held to account for that.   

This is not the first—and certainly will not be the last—lawsuit against MindGeek and other entities like it. Already there are seven lawsuits that have been filed against this pornography behemoth on behalf of courageous survivors across the nation and abroad.   

We have been watching as the criminal empire MindGeek has built for the last two decades is crumbling before our eyes. This ruling is another crack in their exploitative foundation, and is a crack that ushers in a floodgate of potential criminal prosecution against these websites which have created countless victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.  

If you, or anyone you know, has experienced similar abuse at the hands of MindGeek, please reach out to the NCOSE Law Center as you may qualify to join the class action lawsuit. Go to SexualExploitationLawsuits.com and fill out the short questionnaire at the bottom of the page for a free case evaluation!  

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The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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