At, a live tool against piracy

Big outfits like Viacom may make the most noise about copyright violations, but porn sites are using tech to protect their property. Photos: Old armory home to new take on industry

SAN FRANCISCO--Lexi Love has thrown herself headlong into a four-hour shoot at, an adult video company with a Web site that's pushing the envelope in both technology and taste.

Love, an experienced porn star who flew up from Los Angeles for one day earlier this week, is surrounded by a three-person video crew and computer-controlled mechanical devices that can't be adequately described in a family publication.

Soon, a video of Love will be extracted from the high-definition video camera's attached hard drive, edited, rearranged, converted to multiple formats, and made available on a Web site for anyone who pays a subscription fee of $30 a month. The nearly imperceptible clicks of a still camera's shutter--shoots are also photographed--are painstakingly removed during editing so they can't be heard on the soundtrack.

That, simply put, is's business model, and it has propelled the company to a prominent position in the adult entertainment business. Revenue was reportedly $20 million last year, and the company recently made headlines for buying San Francisco's former National Guard Armory, a sprawling structure with a dank and dilapidated basement said to be perfect for filming the so-called fetish entertainment for which the company is known.

It's often said that adult entertainment companies were the first to figure out how to profitably sell content on the Internet, and that they have continually found new and inventive ways to take advantage of the interactive medium while titillating their audiences.

Now is on the cutting edge of the fight against video piracy. While mainstream entertainment outlets like Viacom and NBC complain noisily about YouTube,, with neither the resources nor the mainstream appeal of its giant counterparts, is in an even tougher fight: Protecting the content it produces that's continually copied and reposted on the dozens of Web sites that traffic in poached adult material.

"It's an uphill battle--it's never-ending," founder Peter Acworth said about copyright infringement in an interview with CNET "That's one reason we're moving in a live-show direction."

Like other online publishers, has had to puzzle out ways to deal with the perennial problem of copyright infringement on peer-to-peer networks and Usenet.'s solution is live shows. In some ways, it's is a throwback to a more analog era, back when the Grateful Dead encouraged taping and sharing of live concerts (while still charging admission). The band Phish follows the same model today by authorizing taping and Internet sharing for "non-commercial purposes."

Earlier this month, began streaming live 1080i high-definition video--at a time when mainstream sites such as offer jerky, blurry pre-edited clips at roughly one-tenth the resolution of high-def.

"I haven't actually seen live high-def streaming elsewhere," Acworth said.

Better than banking

Ackworth's office boasts an impressive collection of pornographic DVDs but otherwise could belong to any other high-tech entrepreneur. And that, despite what he produces, is essentially what he is.

A genteel Brit with degrees from Cambridge University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Paris, Acworth moved into the adult entertainment business while working toward a doctorate in finance at Columbia University. He came across a 1997 news article describing the money to be made through Internet porn and decided he'd rather be an entrepreneur than work in a bank for the rest of his life. now has around 70 employees and 10 Web sites, with three more (including "The Training of O" and "My First Time Bound") scheduled to be launched by mid-2007.

As has grown, so has the porn sector. Some estimates place the U.S. share of the industry at as much as $20 billion, though $10 billion is more widely accepted. The market for porn internationally is up to five times as large. Adult mobile content generated $1.4 billion in sales worldwide last year and will balloon to $3.3 billion by 2011, according to Juniper Research.

It is an article of faith among the digerati that pornography drives advances in technology. The argument goes something like this: VHS bested Sony's rival Beta format because that's where skin flicks were widely available. The Super 8 camcorder became so popular because of its devotees among amateur and professional pornographers. At-home downloading of porn spurred the growth of broadband and online credit card processing.

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