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Student Blog Series: Ethical Capital Partners: Pornhub’s New “Ethical” Owners

Posted: April 21, 2023

In March 2023, the Quebec-based tech company MindGeek, owner of the world’s most popular pornographic website Pornhub was acquired by a young private equity firm, Ethical Capital Partners (ECP). This comes in the aftermath of MindGeek being the subject of numerous lawsuits for profiting off of millions of child sexual abuse materials posted on the site.

PornHub receives over 130 million visits every day and is one of many pornography platforms owned by MindGeek. In December 2020, the New York Times published an opinion piece accusing the site of profiting off of sexually exploitative videos of minors or non-consenting partners. Further, the article accused the site of ignoring the victims in these videos when they asked for the videos to be taken down. After the article’s publication, MindGeek removed 80 percent of the content from Pornhub, and MindGeek’s Chief Executive and Operations Officers resigned from their positions in June 2022. This exposition of Pornhub’s distribution of child sexual abuse material is addressed in the new Netflix documentary, Money Shot, which was released only a day before ECP announced its acquisition of MindGeek.

As their name suggests, ECP claims to be the ethical solution to MindGeek’s problems. Not much is known about this private equity firm, as it was only formed in 2022 and its site does not list any of the firm’s other investments. The firm is led by Rocco Meliambro, a cannabis entrepreneur, and Fady Mansour, a criminal defense attorney. Mansour has worked on litigation related to investigating, detecting, and deterring child sexual abuse in his law practice. Maliambro claims that EPC’s commitment to ethics is what led the company to acquire MindGeek saying, “ECP seeks out investment opportunities in industries that require principled ethical leadership.” The firm’s team also includes Derek Ogden, a retired chief superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Speaking on the firm’s plan to strengthen Pornhub’s moderation policies Ogden stated that “mere regulatory compliance is not enough.” According to ECP, Pornhub’s previous shareholders no longer retain any form of ownership and EPC will have complete control over the site and its assets. EPC hopes that its team of law enforcement, regulatory, and financial experts will be the responsible leadership that a company like this needs to win back the trust of the industry and community.

In a statement released by MindGeek, the company detailed what it is currently doing and what they plan to do to keep child sexual abuse material off of the site. To keep illegal content from being uploaded, only verified content creators that have confirmed their identity with the site are able to upload content to Pornhub. MindGeek has also employed a team of human moderators to manually review every upload and remove unwanted content. However, human moderators are as likely, if not more so, to allow sexual abuse material as any computerized moderation technology. One former moderator for MindGeek claims that moderators were encouraged to find excuses to keep videos on the site rather than take them down. Additionally, another problem is how often illegal content is re-uploaded to the site immediately after being taken down. The company claims it will also be utilizing image recognition technology. This technology will allow the site to immediately recognize if a video that has been previously taken down has been re-uploaded, and will automatically take it off the site again.

EPC plans on putting great effort into helping victims of sexual abuse as well. The company will include a “content removal request form” on its site that will immediately disable content that is reported in the form. This form does not require a user account. They also claim to be speaking to victim advocacy groups, and announced the creation of an advisory board that includes a community health doctor with experience in the web-camming industry.

The replacement of a disgraced leadership with leaders in law enforcement and community health that make great claims of strict moderation may put the public at greater ease, but as ethical as any private equity firm claims to be, the primary purpose of any private equity firm is to make money. The pornography industry is a highly lucrative one. As of 2015, the global pornography industry was worth $97 Billion. EPC’s acquisition of this industry’s largest platform may not be as much a moral venture as an enormous financial investment opportunity. However, there are still ways of holding companies like this financially accountable. In the wake of Pornhub’s child sexual abuse exposure, Visa and MasterCard both cut off payment processing to MindGeek’s marketing branch, the branch that makes Pornhub the most profit. This was a turning point that led to Pornhub announcing major changes to the platform’s moderation policies. EPC promises to be a “different kind of equity firm.” They will be scrutinized to fulfill their promises of cleaning up Pornhub’s illegal materials problem. As long as sexual abusers continue to use pornography sites like Pornhub and others to sexually exploit people, platform accountability must be the porn industry’s number one priority.

This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Ryan Roe on being chosen!

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

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