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from – Confession: When I was a broke college student, I downloaded a torrent of the latest version of The Sims. I told myself that I needed it and that I wasn’t stealing. I’m just sharing it. It’s harmless, I thought.

But if I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, why did I feel such a sense of relief when I eventually deleted the game files from my hard drive? Because all along, despite how I tried to rationalize my behavior, I knew there was something very basically immoral about it.

I think most people who support pirating entertainment know that it’s wrong—it’s just that they rationalize it (like I did, years ago) to avoid feeling any guilt over it. But what if you knew, beyond any doubt, that your use of pirated content directly affects others in a negative way? Would you think twice about downloading or streaming online content illegally?

As an adult film performer, I am affected by digital piracy daily. It costs me anywhere from several hundred to a thousand dollars in out-of-pocket expenses and time investment to create a single scene to distribute on my website. I have to maintain a certain number of website members to generate enough income to continue producing filmed entertainment and provide value to their membership (or risk losing them).

Every time a scene of mine is pirated, my membership numbers either flatten out or decrease, because my members figure: “Why pay for what I can find online for free?” Even though people often type in search terms to find a style of work I do—like, for instance, “Siri blow job video,” or “Siri girl/girl”—they should only be able to find my work on my membership site in the first place. If it’s been stolen and uploaded for streaming or file-sharing, it cuts into my ability to earn a living, and it makes it hard for me to continue doing my job.

In my two and a half years in the adult film industry, I have learned that most people who watch porn online don’t pay for it. Instead, they download porn or stream it on tube sites like Xvideos and Xhamster. While there aren’t any hard figures available, the Alexa rankings of the two most popular free porn sites helps tell the tale: Xvideos ranks 41st worldwide—more popular than Tumblr, CNN, and Reddit—while Xhamster ranks 50th. When compared to free tube sites, even the most popular and profitable adult companies’ memberships get much less traffic: Brazzers, for instance, is only ranked 1,549th.

The numbers from DVD sales and video-on-demand revenue also make clear that free adult content is killing the industry. Between 2008 and 2010, for instance, total revenue from cable TV adult pay-per-view services decreased from $1 billion to $899 million, even though adult pay-per-view has historically been one of the cornerstones of the porn industry. DVD sales have also taken a hit, with Vivid studio head Steven Hirsch estimating that sales have decreased 80 percent in the past five years.

Worst of all, most fans either don’t know or don’t care how much piracy is killing the industry. In a Reddit AMA I did last year, I directly debated with some of my own fans who tried to defend their consumption of pirated entertainment. Whether you’re supporting pirated porn, mainstream films, music, or software, the two most common arguments in favor of piracy are the same. And upon close examination, neither hold water.

It’s not stealing.

A lot of people want to think of piracy as the “sharing” of files (you know, for the greater good of humanity!) and claim that since they’re simply using a copy of the original, it’s not stealing. It sounds harmless on the surface, sure. But look a little closer and this argument makes no sense.

Those who copy and distribute digital content illegally are appropriating another’s documented ideas and creative property. That is stealing any way you look at it. When you render someone else’s creative work by copying that recording, it’s theft. That’s the supply side; let’s talk about demand.

Those who support digital piracy by consuming (via streaming or downloading) pirated content are taking another’s property without the owner’s permission. That is also a form of stealing.

Every so often, I’m forced to hunt down and ban a person who has joined my site, downloaded as many videos as he or she could, and spread them around to tube or torrent sites. Sometimes the assholes who do this will go so far as to call their credit card company and report their membership charge of $25 as invalid, which results in me getting a chargeback and losing that money completely. Because banks almost always assume that the porn site is at fault, it’s all the easier for a thief to get away with this.

And guess what? That’s the most common way for pirates obtain videos. These people actually think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods—stealing from the rich porn stars (who in actuality are not rich at all, as I’ll discuss later) to give to the poor, needy porn fans. They flaunt to the piracy community how much stolen content they’ve uploaded on torrent sites and piracy forums (both links NSFW). These people are thieves. And if you watch free porn on tube sites or download torrents, you’re inadvertently supporting them.

You might think that if anyone should take the fall for pirating adult videos, it should be those who steal directly from the sites before giving the content away. But those guys can be incredibly elusive, using different usernames and IP addresses, making it hard, if not impossible, to trace them. That’s why adult companies who do decide to prosecute are likely to go after someone who participates in illegal downloading and streaming.

In the last year alone, Malibu Media, the company that owns the porn site X-art, has filed more than 1,300 copyright-infringement lawsuits against people who have illegally downloaded or streamed their content. The company’s attorney says that most defendants have settled by paying Malibu anywhere between $2,000 and $30,000. That’s a much higher price to pay than the $19.95 subscription fee for one month’s worth of X-art content.

It’s not hurting anyone.

That’s the second most common excuse for piracy. Plenty of people acknowledge that pirated content is stolen content. But they will still support piracy regardless because they think it’s essentially a victimless crime, that file-sharing is helping, not hurting, the entertainment industry. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but piracy is not a victimless crime. Whether you’re downloading a torrent of the porn scene I just released on my site last week, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster, someone is being hurt by your actions.

In the case of mainstream Hollywood films, actors still generally get paid well regardless of how often the films they appear in are pirated What about the people who work behind the scenes to create your favorite films—the people who aren’t top producers and famous actors? There is a system in place for the way production companies are run, and that system requires a certain profit margin to be effective and carry on. Piracy seriouslycuts into the profits of film studios, and when they need to make budget cuts, the “less important” people are forced to take pay cuts or lose their jobs altogether.

In the adult film industry, the situation is even more dire. Back in 2007, with the advent of porn tube sites like Pornhub adding to preexisting torrents, studios had to start seriously cutting their budgets because of piracy. Many companies went out of business. Scores of the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people employed by the California adult industry lost their jobs, both behind and in front of the camera. Porn performers in the early-to-mid 2000s watched as standard film set amenities, such as craft services, became a thing of the distant past. Now most porn studios operate on bare-bones budgets, with little to no crew, and still struggle to create quality content they can actually profit from.

The adult film industry faces a next-level challenge when it comes to combating piracy that Hollywood doesn’t have to contend with: Our fans generally don’t respect us. Even the most active torrent user might feel guilt at some point about pirating mainstream films or might buy the occasional DVD to “offset” some of their illegal downloads.

But if I were to make an educated guess, I would say that nine out of 10 porn consumers do not pay for their porn, and never intend to. For example, I have 138,000 followers on Twitter. (For ease of calculation, let’s say that number is an even 100K.) I think it’s reasonable to presume that 100,000 people follow me because they watch my porn videos. I know exactly how many members my website has, and I track my direct DVD and merchandise sales.

If I take all of these paying fans into account, they make up less than 1 percent of my Twitter followers. That means that, of the approximately 100,000 people who have watched my films, less than one percent have actually paid to watch my films. Even if I give my own calculations a huge margin of error, the number of paying fans would never even approach 10 percent—and I’m one of the most interactive adult performers out there, with an extremely loyal fanbase.

Even though porn is stigmatized in our society, it serves a valuable function for the billions of men and women who watch it. Studies have shown that watching porn can help decrease your stress levels and improve your cognitive performance. It can even help improve your sex life. The human beings who contribute their minds and bodies to produce your beloved jerk-off material deserve your respect, and they deserve the right to be able to make a living.

Adult film performers are obviously indispensable to porn films. But when a studio has to make budget cuts, there is no unnecessary fat left to trim off the meat—so performers are forced to take the hit. A decade ago, the average female adult performer made about $100,000 a year. Today, she’s lucky to make half that amount. Male performers make even less. Now, most performers have to supplement their income with Web camming, doing personal appearances, dancing at gentlemen’s clubs, or escorting, all while maintaining their social media presence to connect with their fans. But even doing all that might not be enough to make a decent living.

Unlike Hollywood actors, adult film performers are not millionaires. This is not a get-rich occupation. Even the most popular and successful among us, or about 10 percent of performers, earn the same approximate annual income from shooting scenes as that of an IT manager. The other 90 percent of performers would be lucky to make the same annual income as a high school teacher. And they’re the ones who are forced to take the biggest pay cuts for their per-scene rates, just to get hired.

The average duration of a performer’s career is only six to 18 months.I think that’s because even those of us who are lucky enough to do a job we love, still want to feel that we are compensated fairly for our work. At the end of the day, if porn performers feel their work is not valued, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers they have or how often their names are searched on Xvideos.

As porn performers, most of us don’t just think about ourselves and our own enjoyment while shooting a scene; we also think about the fans who will watch that scene and derive enjoyment from it, too. I’ve had conversations with legendary porn performers like Nina Hartley, Seka, and Christy Canyon, all of whom echoed the same sentiment. For those of us who really love our work as adult performers, it’s just as much about about helping our audience enjoy and explore their sexuality as it is about our own personal fulfillment.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to not see our work respected or compensated fairly. That’s also why I began participating in #PayForYourPorn, an anti-piracy hashtag campaign aimed at convincing fans to pay for their adult content. Many performers who participate in the campaign continue to tweet their concern that if porn piracy continues in this vein, in a few years there will be little to no new pre-recorded content. We’ll all be watching the same stolen clips on tube sites, over and over and over again. Performing in adult films will no longer be rewarding enough, financially or otherwise, for the industry to retain existing stars or attract new ones.

When that day comes, maybe then fans will be willing to pay for some good, new porn. But by that point, there won’t be anybody left to make it for them.