The world’s largest online pornography conglomerate, MindGeek, has come under fire for the publishing of “rape videos,” child pornography, and nonconsensual pornography on its website, Pornhub. In response, as in the “pornography wars” of the 1970s and 1980s, lawyers and activists have turned to civil remedies and filed creative anti- trafficking lawsuits against MindGeek and third parties, like payment processing company, Visa. These lawsuits seek not only to achieve legal accountability for online sex trafficking but also to reframe a broader array of online harms as sex trafficking.
This Article explores what these new trafficking lawsuits mean for the future regulation of the online pornography industry. Redolent of venerable feminist debates, these emerging trafficking cases raise new questions about the scope of the First Amendment, § 230 of the Communications Decency Act—which has shielded online platforms from civil liability for content uploaded by third parties—and direct and third-party liability. They open up new avenues for civil damages against online pornography websites and entities that profit from online harms. However, this Article also posits that trafficking statutes, if mobilized too broadly, can have harmful implications for civil liberties, internet freedom, and sexual expression. Thus, it argues in favor of the judicious application of trafficking frames in these realms.