Adult film business optimistic despite piracy, condom battles

The porn industry got in a lot of fights in 2014, and from the look of things, 2015 is going to be a brawler of a year as well.

Piracy and condoms continue to be the porn business' chief battlegrounds. While the push for a controversial bill that would have criminalized the production of porn without condoms anywhere in California died in committee last year, a circuit court upheld an existing, similar law in Los Angeles County (where 60 to 70 per cent of US porn films are shot).

And piracy, which costs the industry millions of dollars per year continues to run rampant. In 2014, Nate Glass, owner of Takedown Piracy, a copyright enforcement service, estimates he sent out 24,716 copyright law notices to sites-and expects to send more this year.

"It's hard to say exactly how much piracy costs the adult industry, since companies aren't required to make yearly revenues public," said Glass. "However, you can see the decline in production where fewer companies are shooting new content and there's less work for performers. ... I know back in 2009 when I was working for studios we saw about a 50 per cent drop in DVD sales over the course of the year; that's when the slide really began."

Adult film industry's biggest stars

  • Carter Cruise: Two years ago, this 24-time nominee was a college student, but she knew the academic life wasn't for her. After taking a semester off to reassess life, she came up with the Carter Cruise brand - and launched it with a topless photo shoot. When she realized she was comfortable with that, she decided to dive all the way into porn. Her popularity soon exploded. In addition to making our list, she also topped the ranking of 2015's most popular stars at porn site GameLink.
  • Riley Reid: A six-year veteran of the adult entertainment industry, Reid is a master at social media, where she has cultivated her fan base by regularly tweeting pictures and Vine videos of herself - usually nude. In 2014, she was named Performer of the Year by Xbiz, which gave her already fast-growing career a big boost. She's up for that same award from both Xbiz and AVN this year - along with 14 other nominations.
  • Aidra Fox: Fox started her career in porn as soon as she turned 18, becoming Penthouse's Pet of the Month less than a year later. Now 20, she was nominated for 13 awards this year. As her career progresses, she has mentioned she's interested in getting into directing. But for now, she's busy in front of the camera.
  • Annika Albrite: Currently in her fifth year as a performer, Albrite is coming off a huge year. In 2015, she swept performer of the year honors from AVN and Xbiz, which she has parlayed into some behind the scenes work as well. Three years ago, LA Weekly said she was one of 10 porn stars who could be the next Jenna Jameson. It's too early to declare that as truth, but with 12 more nominations this year, she's certainly on her way.
  • Dana Vespoli: Vespoli, who made the Dirty Dozen last year as well, is a curiosity of sorts. While she is a performer, most of her AVN and Xbiz nominations come from her work behind the camera as a director of films for adult film studio Evil Angel (something she has been doing for 10 years now). But her willingness to jump into the action makes her higher profile than many women who oversee porn films, earning her a big fan base. She's up for 12 awards this year.
  • Skin Diamond: A former model for Louis Vuitton and American Apparel, Diamond quickly became one of the top performers in the porn world when she made the switch. She's nominated for 11 awards this year. She also boasts one of the more distinctive looks in the industry, often sporting a haircut that has one side of her head shaved close.
  • Chanel Preston: Preston has appeared on the Dirty Dozen since its inception - and has a substantial fan base within and outside of the industry. She is in constant demand as a performer, hosts an occasional Web series ("Naked with Chanel") that focuses on issues surrounding sexuality in America, directs films, is a board member of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, and has appeared more regularly on mainstream programs, such as Showtime's recent documentary on the adult industry.
  • Jilian Janson: Janson's porn career started when she was in high school, a rarity even in this industry. She began appearing as a Webcam model on MyFreeCams, but was recruited by an agent and began shooting three months after her 18th birthday. She dropped out of school after word of her career choice spread and she was harassed. But in the two years since she entered adult entertainment, she has found a niche, earning eight award nominations this year.
  • Vicki Chase: Perhaps the only performer to take her stage name from a major banking institution (where she was a teller before entering the porn world), Chase has had a fairly low profile for the past six years. Her star began to rise when she had a cameo on Sons of Anarchy in 2014 and this year she has seven nominations.
  • Romi Rain: Adult entertainment is a family tradition for Rain. Her mother, while not a performer, posed in Hustler many years ago. Rain stuck with nude modeling at first as well, performing occasionally as a Webcam model. Curiosity about the industry led her to give it a try and this year she has accrued seven award nominations.
  • Keisha Grey: A two-year veteran of the industry, Grey amassed seven nominations this year. A music lover, she say
  • Mick Blue: Last year's AVN Male Performer of the Year, Blue has more than 30 nominations this year. Born in Austria, he has been part of the industry since 2000 and in 2014 married fellow performer Anikka Albrite.

Globally, porn is a $97 billion industry, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. At present, between $10 and $12 billion of that comes from the United States.

Revenue from traditional porn films has been shrinking for the past several years, though. Businesses like live webcam models and adult novelties have helped fill that gap-but Wosick notes that most of the industry's financial information is less concrete numbers and more estimates.

Despite the legal and piracy challenges, porn has arguably never been such a visible part of the pop culture landscape. Sex toys are sold in corner drugstores. Several adult actresses appeared on popular television series, such as "Sons of Anarchy." And later this year the cinematic version of "50 Shades of Grey"-with a strong focus on the bondage fetish-will hit theatres-and is expected to be one of 2015's big hits.

"The industry's stabilizing, but still on the rocks," said Chauntelle Tibbals, an independent sociologist (and former visiting scholar at the University of Southern California) who studies the adult entertainment industry. "The huge purges we were seeing in terms of ... lots of companies closing seems-from a far distance-to be leveling off-and that's a good thing, but one rocky thing that's happening is the issue of expression. And I think that's going to be a continuing issue in 2015."

Expression became a red flag in December when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Los Angeles condom law. In its ruling, Judge Susan P. Graber, writing for the three-member panel's majority, noted "The condom mandate survives intermediate scrutiny because it has only a [trivial] effect on expression ... and leaves open adequate alternative means of expression".

"The idea of controlling sexual expression that way is absolutely frightening," said Tibbals. "It shows the court is more interested in controlling the adult industry in terms of expression than it is with STI transmissions."

The ongoing legal battle over condom usage in LA and the threat that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which led the charge on Measure B, will once again push for a statewide law has renewed speculation that some companies may move from California-with Nevada often mentioned as a possible new home (despite the fact that filming porn in that state remains illegal).

Despite the potential struggles, many industry insiders are upbeat about the year to come, saying they feel adult entertainment is getting a new beginning of sorts.

"There's a greater sense of optimism," said Alec Helmy, founder and publisher of industry trade Xbiz. "I believe the companies that have stood the test of time are no longer dwelling on the past and have figured out a way to stay viable. I would say it's a new era for the industry."

Chanel Preston, one of porn's top stars, agrees.

"When I got into the industry in 2010, I feel like that was the lowest point," she said. "People were struggling with the Internet and companies were getting pushed out. It was the true test of the industry. Now, four to five years later, the companies are starting to adapt to the new technology and figuring out how to use it to their benefit. The companies that aren't willing or couldn't do that got weeded out."