Visas Are Intended to Assist The judge rules that Pornhub and its parent company profit from child porn, allowing the case to go on.

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Pornhub Parent Company Monetize In a setback for Visa, a federal judge decided that it was reasonable to conclude that the payment processor enabled the illegal activity. The judge’s decision came in a case alleging that Visa is responsible for the distribution of child pornography on Pornhub and other websites run by the parent company MindGeek.

Pornhub Parent Company Monetize In a ruling published on Friday, July 29, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected Visa’s motion to dismiss the charge that it had broken California’s Unfair Competition Law by accepting payments for child porn in the Fleites v. MindGeek case. (A copy of the judgement can be seen at this location.)

Pornhub Parent Company Monetize Carney ruled that the plaintiff had “adequately alleged” that MindGeek and Visa had conspired illegally to monetize child pornography. In particular, he claimed that “Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn,” that “[Visa’s] decision to continue to recognise MindGeek as a merchant despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn” indicated a criminal agreement to profit from child porn, and that “the court can comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn

“It is entirely foreseeable that child porn victims like the plaintiff will experience the harms that plaintiff alleges when MindGeek decides to monetize child porn, and Visa decides to continue allowing its payment network to be used for that purpose despite knowledge of MindGeek’s monetization of child porn,” Carney wrote.

“Visa opposes sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse materials as repulsive to our values and mission as a company,” a Visa representative said in a statement. This pre-trial decision is unsatisfactory since it misrepresents Visa’s function as well as its rules and procedures. Visa will not put up with any illicit activity being conducted over our network. We still maintain that Visa is an inappropriate defendant in this matter.

According to a MindGeek representative, the court is compelled to assume that all of the plaintiff’s allegations are genuine and truthful because it has not yet made a determination regarding the validity of the claims. We are convinced the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of evidence once the court can actually review the facts.

“We have banned uploads from anyone who has not submitted government-issued identification that has passed third-party verification, eliminated the option to download free content, integrated a number of cutting-edge technological platforms and content moderation tools, and instituted digital fingerprinting of all videos found to be in violation of our Non-Consensual Content and CSAM [child sexual abuse material] Policies to help prevent removed videos being reinstated,” the company’s statement continued. It is totally untrue to imply that MindGeek does not take the removal of unlawful content seriously.

Pornhub Parent Company Monetize Feras Antoon, the CEO of MindGeek, and David Tassillo, the COO, resigned in June. Additionally, an undetermined number of workers were let go by the Montreal, Quebec-based business. This followed an exposé published in the New Yorker on June 20 that revealed Pornhub housed sexually graphic nonconsensual videos, including ones starring young children.

Serena Fleites is the plaintiff in the lawsuit against MindGeek and Visa. She claims that her ex-boyfriend forced her to make a sexually explicit film when she was 13 and that he uploaded it on Pornhub under the name “13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera” without her knowledge or consent. According to Fleites’ lawyers, the video, which MindGeek sites claim to have received millions of views, destroyed her life. “While MindGeek profited from the child porn featuring plaintiff, plaintiff was intermittently homeless or living in her car, addicted to heroin, depressed and suicidal, and without the support of her family,” the complaint from her lawsuit, filed in June 2021, reads. Nicholas Kristof, a journalist for the New York Times, wrote on Fleites’ tale in December 2020.

In his ruling on July 29, Carney partially sided with Visa. Fleites “simply has no foundation for asserting Visa directly participated in the sex trafficking activities that damaged her,” he stated in the ruling. Fleites was also told to give “a more specific explanation with respect to her common law civil conspiracy cause of action against Visa,” according to his orders.

In a second, related ruling (accessible at this link), Carney ordered MindGeek to participate in jurisdictional discovery, which, according to the Fleites’ counsel, will expose the defendant’s business ties and show MindGeek’s “shadowy operations and those managing it.” The judge stated in the judgement that “where the money flows in the MindGeek web, which may relate to ownership of the porn websites that produce revenue, relevant to the court’s jurisdictional determination.” According to the court, the main issue in this case is financial gain from the sexual exploitation of kids.

A thread regarding the court’s decision was posted on Twitter on Saturday by activist investor Bill Ackman of the hedge firm Pershing Square Holdings. Ackman has previously criticised Visa and Mastercard for allowing MindGeek to profit from child pornography.

According to Ackman, Visa’s actions “raise substantial… personal accountability and potential criminal exposure for the board” in addition to “causing the corporation enormous financial and reputational damage.” Ackman claims that neither he nor Pershing Square have any financial stake, long or short, in Visa, Mastercard, or any other bank or financial institution that processes payments.

Ackman claims that after reading the Times article about Fleites and Pornub, he contacted the CEOs of Visa and Mastercard to voice his worries regarding their role in supporting MindGeek’s operations. Soon after, both businesses stopped accepting payments from customers on MindGeek’s websites. Within “a day or two,” the hedge fund manager claimed, MindGeek had purged >10 million unlawful videos, or 80% of its content. To make up around 90% of the business’s revenue, according to Ackman, they both quickly reinstated business-to-business payments for the purchase of ads on MindGeek websites and for subscriptions to “premium” material.

Alfred Kelly, CEO of Visa, “should know that the bulk of child trafficking victims are from lower-income households, particularly Black and Brown families,” according to Ackman. I would advise Mr. Kelly to retain independent criminal and white collar attorneys, as well as the board of Visa. “Et tu, @Mastercard,” he wrote as his reply to the thread.

“Visa and other credit card companies are finally going to face the civil and possibly criminal consequences of this unconscionable and illegal activity,” said Michael Bowe, partner at Brown Rudnick and the lead attorney representing Fleites in the lawsuit, in a statement. “The court’s holding that our detailed complaint adequately pleads Visa was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to monetize child porn.”

Serena Fleites v. MindGeek S.A.R.L. et al. is the case, and it is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California under Docket No. 2:21-cv-04920-CJC-ADS.

Fleites is one of the 34 individuals who filed a lawsuit against Pornhub and MindGeek last year, accusing the companies of monetizing child pornography, rape movies, trafficked content, stolen content, and other nonconsensual content. The lawsuit is the first attempt to use RICO, child pornography, and trafficking statutes to hold financial institutions responsible for illegal activity that was monetized by and via the systems of the businesses whose payments they process.

After a court ruling in a child porn case, Visa and Mastercard removed the ability to purchase Pornhub advertisements.