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Protecting your content online - a guide for sex workers.

Protecting your content online - a guide for sex workers.

. 10 min read

Fifteen years ago, pro domme Maya* made a surprising discovery.

She was working for a local fetish establishment, taking applications from potential mistresses. While researching one particular domme, Maya discovered that the worker had copied her own advertising text. “Her words were really familiar. I opened my website to find that it was a direct copy, word for word.” Since then, she says,  "I'm continually coming across my photos being used by other people on their own websites, social media, and ads."

Setting up business as an independent sex worker means putting a lot of information about ourselves online: our photos, our carefully-written advertising text, and our working names. This content is valuable because it brings in clients (and income).

What happens when that content starts showing up in ways we haven’t authorised?

If you’ve ever come across a Twitter profile that looks exactly like your own, or received emails from a shady-looking escort ad site, saying they’ve set you up with a ‘free’ account, you’ve probably wrestled with the problem of content theft. From impersonation to plagiarism, there are so many ways others can use our content for their own purposes.

If this has happened to you, you might feel helpless and frustrated. But there are definitely actions you can take. In this article, I’m speaking with fellow workers and industry experts to find out more about content protection.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and nor is anyone I’ve interviewed. This is just an attempt to put together some useful information, so that you have options to choose from. Please use your own judgement and seek legal/specialist advice if necessary.

What does content theft actually look like?

I’m using the phrase ‘content theft’ to cover a multitude of sins. According to the workers I’ve spoken with, there are many ways in which our brand, words, and images can be used without our approval.

Lola, current sex worker and co founder of Tryst, says it’s a common problem. “In my experience as a worker, I’ve had my photos stolen a number of times. In fact I believe there’s still an ad on a US based site which wasn’t placed by me and remains up despite never having worked in the US!”

Vivienne Black is an escort who runs sex industry marketing agency Sin by Design. She’s always had issues with content protection, especially after appearing in the mainstream media. "I had a lot of people in different countries pretending to be me,” she says, “And I was getting approached by clients on Twitter saying, ‘Are you in India this weekend?’"

And Maya, from our story above, tells the same story: "It was a constant battle a few years ago - it seemed every other week I had to confront some form of plagiarism."

Types of content theft include:

  • Unauthorised escort advertising sites that ‘scrape’ content from legitimate websites, then set up ad profiles using your name, ad text, and/or images. These sites are often used for phishing, and other scams.
  • Scammers who create fake ads or fake social media profiles using your name and images, to defraud potential clients.
  • Other sex workers copying your sales text or using your images for their own ads, social media, or website. This can lead to confusion when clients get you mixed up, or devalue your brand.
  • Internet trolls who impersonate others on social media.
  • Explicit images or videos you’ve created (on Fan sites or sent privately to clients, for example) being sold or published online without your permission.

Being impersonated or plagiarised feels awful - after all, when you’ve put a lot of work into your business, it’s unfair for others to profit from it! There are other serious harms too:

  • Damage to your brand or personal image because you’re being misrepresented
  • Clients might be confused about which worker they’re seeing, or get the wrong information, and expect rates or services that you don’t provide.
  • Legal problems from impersonators or fake sites that list banned services or breach local advertising laws.
  • You lose control over where your information appears, which can be a huge problem if you need to update your details or remove yourself from the Internet entirely.

What can we do to protect our content?

Preventing this stuff might seem difficult, but there’s quite a lot you can do to reduce your chances of being plagiarised - and to take action if it happens. Here are some ideas.

Firstly, be vigilant for content theft:

  • Regularly search online for your name and key phrases from your ad text. You can also setup a search alert for certain keywords.
  • Use a reverse image search service to check your images.
  • If you have a social media presence, clients or other workers might be able to alert you to stolen content when they see it.
  • When you start a new business or start using a new name, set up social media accounts on as many platforms as possible. This will make it harder for others to impersonate you.
  • It’s useful to have a website, as it gives you a central source of information that you control - and can refer to when complaining about copyright infringement.
  • Use a copyright symbol and copyright notice on your website to help deter others from using your content.

Maya puts a lot of work into checking for plagiarism. "I do constant image searches and put my [advertising] copy on Google to see what pops up...though mostly my clients will keep me informed," she says. She’s also trademarked her working name, which gives her a stronger position when confronting others.

Vivienne recommends building a solid Internet presence, even if it’s just on social media: “It's really hard for you to say 'I own this content' without having some sort of proof.”

When another worker uses your content or images:

  • Remember that the worker may be less privileged or experienced than you. It’s kind to be polite, and it may also result in a better outcome.
  • Email or message them with specifics: links to the content you want removed, why it infringes your rights, and a deadline for removal.
  • If this doesn’t work, consider issuing a DMCA takedown request (detailed below).

Without exception, everyone I speak with emphasises the importance of being polite when contacting other workers about copyright violations. "Most of the time it's inadvertent,” Vivienne says. “You sit there and you come up with this really good idea, but in your research you've actually picked up on it subconsciously." Although it may feel like a violation to see another worker wearing your signature set of lingerie or photographed in the same hotel room as you recently used for a shoot, these kinds of similarities can be coincidental.

Even when plagiarism is obvious, kindness is sometimes warranted. Maya points out that many of the people she's had to contact about plagiarism are new to the industry. I imagine it might be tempting to use other worker's content when you’re new, especially if you're under-resourced and not sure how to start! That doesn’t mean it's okay, obviously...but a polite message is more compassionate, and will probably be better received, than legal threats or personal attacks.

When you’re being impersonated on social media:

  • It helps to already have an online presence. If you don’t, it’s going to be hard to prove that you own the original account or content.
  • Check the platform’s support documentation and follow their directions for reporting impersonation.
  • Ask others to report the fake profile. Put together a post for your followers that gives very specific instructions on how they should report, to ensure they don’t click the wrong options.

Getting a fake social account removed can be easy or difficult, depending on the platform. Vivienne says that Twitter is quite easy to deal with, although it’s not fast. “It’s not something that happens instantaneously and it’s something you need your followers for...you want to ask them to help you out.

When a scraper site copies your advertising:

  • First decide if it’s a problem - it might not be, if the ad links to your site, the information is accurate and you’re getting web traffic. It’s up to you to decide whether to object or not. Just keep in mind that you may have issues removing this content in future.
  • Never log into scraper sites using your everyday email address or password - this might give your details away to adversaries. You should also avoid logging into scraper sites with the login details of the scraped advert as this may be an attempt to gain access to your primary account.
  • Follow the DMCA takedown request process, as outlined below.
  • If nothing else works, you may be able to, create an account or log in to the scraper site and replace the content with blank spaces and images. If you chose this option always use a throwaway email address and unique password.

A note on photography and copyright: If your images are being used without your permission, but were taken by a professional photographer, then the photographer may still own copyright. You’ll need to ask them to pursue the takedown or report process. Vivienne says that this can be especially helpful on image-based social sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

How to file a DMCA takedown request

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was the USA’s attempt to expand copyright law to cover online publications. A ‘DMCA takedown request’ allows material that infringes someone’s copyright to be removed from the Internet. While these laws are specific to the USA, DMCA takedown requests can be an effective way to assert your ownership of content online, regardless of location.

A DMCA takedown is basically an email or letter, with a particular structure and including specific details, that can be sent to a website owner (the person responsible for the content) or web host (the company that hosts the website) to force the removal of content. It’s something you can write yourself, if you know what to say (and I’ve included links to some samples below). However, there are other steps to the process that I recommend you follow too.

Consider who you are sending your request to and what information you may be able to safely share with them. Remember that some services will just forward your takedown request to the responsible user as is, without removing identifying information, or worse share your information with a more harmful third party. Don’t include personal details that leave you feeling exposed.

Step 1: Contact the author or site owner to try and get the content taken down

The first step is always to contact the person directly responsible and simply ask them to remove your content.  This could save you a lot of hassle, if they respond. And if the matter does need to be escalated, your attempts to contact the person responsible will help prove you’re serious about taking action.

  • Find an email address or a way to direct message the person who posted the content. If they have copied your ad content they likely are sharing a way to contact them as well.
  • Email or DM the user with specifics - include links to the content you want removed, explain that is infringes your copyright, and set a reasonable deadline for removal. Even if you are very frustrated, remain polite and you are more likely to have success.

Step 2: Contact the site owner to try and get the content taken down

If you aren't able to have the content removed by the person who posted it, or don't hear back from them after a reasonable time and at least one follow up, you can reach out to the platform operator with a takedown request.

  • Find an email address for contacting the site. Most sites will have a contact email listed in their privacy policy or terms of service. If there are none listed directly on the website, there are a few keywords you can attempt: 'abuse@', 'admin@', 'support@', 'webmaster@' and 'postmaster@', for the website domain, Example: if the website is example.org, try abuse@example.org and admin@example.com.
  • Email the author or owner with specifics - include links to the content you want removed, explain that it infringes your copyright, and set a reasonable deadline for removal. Refer to this example provided by The Arts Law Centre of Australia for standard wording that will help speed up your request.
  • You can pay a professional to do this, but there are costs involved. Companies such as Cam Model Protection can file DMCA takedowns on your behalf (and they also offer a range of other services, such as monitoring the Internet for stolen content).

Remember to give the website owner time to get back to you - a few business days is recommended. Business days refer to the days a business normally operates and has staff available, which is most commonly Monday to Friday and excluding public holidays.

Step 3: Dealing with unhelpful sites or services

If you've contacted the website operator and haven't heard anything after at least one follow up and a reasonable processing time, you may need to escalate your request. How you should do this will vary based on the type of content and site you are trying to contact.

Reach out to a technically proficient peer support organisation who can help you take the best next steps based on your local laws and regulations. If you don't have a technically proficient option, or are not sure who to talk to you can check out our list of regional organisations or even reach out to our support team who can help you reach out to a peer organisation for assistance.

Step 4: Have the content removed from search engines

A DMCA takedown isn’t always effective. “A lot of places are a bit sneaky,” Vivienne says, “they might take your content down and put it back up, or change the link. If that's not satisfactory, or you're not getting a good reaction from the host or the website, that's where you go to Google.”

Filing takedown notices with Google and Bing ensures that your stolen content doesn’t show up in search results. Although this won’t remove the actual pages of the site, it will mean that people are less likely to see it when they search online.

Our words, images, and brands are worth protecting

Content theft is a huge problem, and it often feels technical and confusing. But our brand, words, and pictures are the result of our time and effort - and they’re worth defending!

Don’t forget to reach out to your peers and to industry services if you need assistance. Vivienne from Sin by Design can offer more information, and if your content has been copied from Tryst you can also get in touch with the team to ask about next steps.

  • To protect privacy, some names have been changed.

Disclaimer: The primary purpose of this post is to educate and inform and not to endorse specific products or companies. We encourage our readers to do their own research and ensure any products mentioned are right for you.