Judge Greenlights Suit Accusing Visa of Profiting off Kids on Pornhub

Judge Greenlights Suit Accusing Visa of Profiting off Kids on Pornhub
Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP, Getty Images

For the past year, one of the most powerful companies in adult entertainment has been weathering a lawsuit that claims it intentionally hosted and profited off of child porn. The suit accuses MindGeek, the parent company of Pornhub, of knowingly monetising videos involving minors, as well as a variety of other nonconsensual sex videos — including those involving rape and “revenge porn.”

The suit also accuses Visa — MindGeek’s payment processor — of knowingly profiting off of the illegal videos. Visa recently attempted to get the suit against it tossed out, but last week a federal judge dismissed the motion, allowing the case to move forward against the payment processor for alleged involvement in a “criminal agreement” to profit off the videos.

Visa argued in its motion to dismiss that the suit threatened to “upend the financial and payment industries.” But in a decision published Friday, Judge Cormac Carney of the Central District Court of California made it clear that he wasn’t buying what Visa was selling.

Carney wrote (emphasis ours):

Visa’s agreement to financially benefit from child porn can be inferred from its decision to continue to recognise MindGeek as a merchant despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn on its websites…

At this early stage of the proceedings, before Plaintiff has had any discovery from which to derive Visa’s state of mind, the Court can comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetise child porn from the very fact that Visa continued to provide MindGeek the means to do so and knew MindGeek was indeed doing so.

Put yet another way, Visa is not alleged to have simply created an incentive to commit a crime, it is alleged to have knowingly provided the tool used to complete a crime.

The lawsuit was originally filed last June in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by a woman named Serena Fleites, whose horrendous ordeal with an underage sex video was originally detailed in a column published by the New York Times in 2020. When she was 13, Fleites’ boyfriend uploaded an illicit video of her to Pornhub. The video was shared widely, and one version of it was viewed as many as 2.7 million times. After the video’s release, Fleites says her life “spiraled out of control,” and she found herself suicidal and addicted to heroin.

According to the suit, Fleites experience is far from unique. The suit is also representing 34 other women who claim to have been affected by similar situations involving videos of them.

Along with Pornhub, MindGeek is the owner of dozens of popular porn websites — including YouPorn, RedTube, Thumbzilla, and Tube8. It also owns a number of porn production companies — like Reality Kings and Brazzers. But the suit refers to MindGeek as a “classic criminal enterprise” that knowingly profits off of illegal material. It also accuses “major American credit companies and banks” from “profiting” of the videos, specifically listing Visa as a defendant.

We reached out to Visa for comment and will update our story if they respond. In a statement provided to Variety, the payment processor claimed that it was an “improper defendant” in the case:

“Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse materials as repugnant to our values and purpose as a company. This pre-trial ruling is disappointing and mischaracterizes Visa’s role and its policies and practices. Visa will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity. We continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case.”

When reached for comment by Gizmodo, MindGeek provided us with a statement:

“At this point in the case, the court has not yet ruled on the veracity of the allegations, and is required to assume all of the plaintiff’s allegations are true and accurate. When the court can actually consider the facts, we are confident the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of merit. MindGeek has zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms, and has instituted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.”

The lawsuit has stirred more than a little trouble for both companies. Last month, two of the top executives at MindGeek — CEO Feras Antoon and COO David Tassillo — stepped down from the company amid fallout from the scandal.