This blogpost is an update regarding my ongoing investigation by ATVOD, the UK's new Authority for Television and Video On-Demand, which has set itself up as the regulator of internet video pornography. You can read my first blogpost about this process here.
There are a few factors that make this whole thing particularly stressful which I haven't mentioned yet. The most significant is this: if and when ATVOD issue their Determination against me (that is, the final step of their investigation process), they are likely to out me. The way they are likely to do this is by publishing my legal name as the Service Provider of the site Dreams of Spanking on the list of 2015 Determinations on their website. Nearly all of the providers ATVOD have targeted so far this year have been listed by their legal name.
ATVOD like outing people
I was given the heads-up by Ms Tytania, who is currently the only producer legally permitted to sell video online in the UK without being registered with (i.e. censored by) ATVOD. With Backlash's help, she successfully appealed to Ofcom and over-ruled ATVOD's determination that she was operating illegally, and is now free to continue running her anarchist femdom site The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell without further disruption.
It was Ms Tytania who pointed out to me that on the list of 2014 Determinations on ATVOD's website, the names of the service providers are listed inconsistently. Some, such as Madame Caramel (who removed videos from her site at ATVOD's insistence) are permitted to retain their scene name and their privacy. Others, such as Ms Tytania, who challenged ATVOD's authority and subsequently won her appeal to Ofcom, are listed under their legal name. I'm not saying it's a comprehensive pattern, but ATVOD are undeniably maintaining a degree of unpredictability here. If ATVOD has in fact exercised their discretion to out producers that challenge them, then that's a disgusting abuse of authority. The social stigma faced by people who work in the adult industry is already bad enough without ambitious regulators exploiting it to punish those who stand up to them.
So I might be outed, but I don't know - and both the prospect and the uncertainty are pretty stressful.
To compound the stress, halfway through my correspondence with ATVOD I learned that there were various tactics I could use to potentially protect my privacy - for instance, legally changing my name, or registering a new company and transferring ownership of Dreams of Spanking to it - and had to quickly decide whether to jump through one of these additional hoops. All of them were a hassle, and none of them guaranteed that ATVOD wouldn't go ahead and out me anyway. They had already addressed their correspondence to my legal name, so at the end of the day, they could publish it if they wanted. No matter what I tried, it was ultimately out of my control. I decided to conserve my energies for the fight ahead.
Facing this - my legal name being publicly connected, for the first time, with my work as a porn performer and producer - is emotionally exhausting. I've maintained online separation between my porn name and my wallet name for ten years, and the compartmentalisation has been hugely beneficial to both my privacy and my wellbeing. Now, all that is threatened, and I don't even know if I can figure out ahead of time what the consequences are likely to be. I do know it will be life-changing, and my relationship with family may never be the same. I know that sex workers have lost their homes, their jobs, their children and their lives because of the stigma attached to their line of work. Porn is one of the least marginalised forms of sex work, but I know porn workers who have lost their jobs and faced abuse (both online and offline) when they were maliciously outed. I'm not ashamed of who I am or what I do, but in this day and age, losing your privacy is a hell of a thing. If ATVOD truly are using the threat of this to punish those who stand up to them, I think it's vile.
So the stakes are high. Every decision I've had to make during this process has been fraught. Even writing this post will have consequences. If I'm going to be outed, maybe I shouldn't call attention to the fact ahead of time - maybe I should just let it quietly happen, and hope no-one notices. But it's surely only a matter of time before a journalist picks up on it - and if it's inevitable, the least I can do is use my case as an example to show the world how ATVOD treats its victims.
So why don't I just move overseas?
This is the first question everyone asks, and I've been sick of it since the first week the new laws came in last December. There are lots of reasons why:
It's not enough to just move the hosting of the site overseas - what ATVOD care about is who has "editorial control" of the site. In order to effectively slip through their net, I would have to sign editorial rights for Dreams of Spanking over to an agent overseas. I'd need to transfer the hosting and the domain registration into their name. I would have to either transfer my CCBill account to their name, or get them to set up a new CCBill account and change the billing forms on the site accordingly. All of this adds up to a lot of effort and expense. If I wanted to carry on editing videos (and I'm not letting anyone else edit my videos - they're my damn creation and no-one else would do it right) I would have to be contracted by the new owner as a freelance video editor. And if I wanted to get paid at all, either for the site itself (I don't know anyone who could afford to buy a porn site outright, even a small one like Dreams of Spanking) or for my ongoing editing work, we'd have be very careful with the payments so as to not seem suspiciously like I was, in fact, still running the site. In order to back up this transfer of ownership, I'd then have to distance myself from the site online, both on the site itself and on my blogs and social media. As far as the public was concerned Dreams of Spanking would no longer be Pandora Blake's spanking site - and legally speaking, that would be absolutely true.
Not only would these bureaucratic hoops eat a huge amount of time, energy and money at a time when I have very little, I just can't stomach it. Dreams of Spanking is mine. It's an autobiography - it documents my relationships, my fantasies, and my evolving kinky sexuality. I conceived it, planned it and executed it. I paid for everything out of my personal savings. I have never shared ownership of it with anyone else. It's mine: my art, my activism and my kink. I don't want the world to think it's not mine, and I don't want to give control of it away. This might be irrational and stubborn, but it's how I feel.
The initial advice I had in December was that moving overseas wasn't, ultimately, a viable way of escaping ATVOD's notice. By the time I got stuck into the details and learned that it might be an option if I jumped through all the hoops listed above, they were already investigating me and had already sent me a letter. They knew who I was and where I was based. Any attempt at this point to relocate the site would be too little, too late.
ATVOD are threatening the future of independent, alternative, ethical porn within the UK. This is an issue I have devoted years of my life to, and which I care deeply about. I don't want to spend my time, money and effort running away. I want to stand and fight.
Why don't I move myself overseas, and take the site with me?
All the hassle and expense I've just enumerated would be multiplied by actually emigrating. It would also be an imperfect solution - ATVOD CEO Peter Johnson has made it quite clear that his eventual aim is to extend the UK internet filter to block all sites across the globe from being viewed within the UK unless they comply with their regulations, not just UK sites.
Quite aside from the stress and ultimate futility of moving away, however, this question makes me furious. The UK is my home. Why should I be the one to leave? I grew up here. My life is here. My support network, my partner, my friends, my history and my family are here. My partner and lovers couldn't come with me, and I don't want to lose all the connections I've spent thirty years building on these shores. I love these islands and I want to stay here and help make them better. I don't want to jump ship.
Attempting to persuade me and other UK producers that we should willingly exile ourselves is traumatic, stressful and victim-blaming. By doing this you are helping the censors who want to cleanse the UK of anything they find distasteful. Stop it.
The second letter
On 24th March, ATVOD joined Dreams of Spanking again (I got £20 out of them this time, because I'd cancelled the five day subscription option since they bought one in January. Riches!). They looked at a few more scenes than the first time, when they only skimmed a handful of videos and photosets. This time, their browsing seemed to be focused on the more 'extreme' end of my content - they seemed to be exploring the severe and welts tags, and they paid particular attention to Vincent Brennan's judicial caning scene, and subsequent hand and wooden ruler spanking over his fresh cane welts.
On 2nd April - a mere two days after I'd replied to the first one - ATVOD sent me a second letter, asking me to explain my claim that I don't fall within their area of jurisdiction. I took legal advice, and replied to it on April 23rd. I'm now waiting for their next move - probably their Preliminary View, followed by a Determination. That's the point at which they'll out me, if they're going to.
What happens next?
Once ATVOD issues their Determination, two things happen. Firstly, I will appeal to Ofcom on the same grounds laid down in my most recent reply to ATVOD, which is that I (and Backlash) believe that they are over-reaching their authority and acting beyond the remit of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Secondly, I will need to stop operating, because otherwise it'll complicate the appeal process and it's very likely to scupper my chances. I'm not sure what "stopping operating" exactly means as yet, but it almost certainly means making Dreams of Spanking unavailable for the duration of the appeal. I don't know how long the appeal will take - months at least, perhaps a year. Once the appeal is underway I won't be allowed to discuss the details in public, which is why I'm explaining all this ahead of time.
So even if Backlash and their legal advisors are right (and I think they are) and I am not operating illegally, because the EU AVMS was never intended to apply to small cottage-industry websites which are expressions of a personal lifestyle - "communities of interest" serving a fetish niche, with low turnover and profit margins, and certainly not economic competitors to national or international TV broadcasters - even if Ofcom agrees on all those points and I win my appeal, I still have to take my site offline for a long period of time, and I still might get outed.
While the appeal is underway I'll lose the regular traffic I've spent three and a half years building up. My Google page rank will suffer. The threat of being outed is more serious: if it happens my life will be transformed in ways I can't anticipate right now. I'll lose my privacy, and I might lose more than that.
Overall, it's a lose/lose for me. Even if I eventually emerge triumphant, ATVOD will still have given me and my Dream a serious smacking. It sucks.
What particularly sucks is that it looks like ATVOD are singling me out. None of the fellow spanking or BDSM producers I personally know have been contacted by them, except the femdom sites they've been going after since they finished targeting Murdoch and his ilk. (Apparently male domination is fine but female domination is highly suspect, according to the patriarchal UK porn censor.) It also seems as if my investigation has been accelerated compared to other producers - if they issue their Determination in June, the whole process will only have taken around three months from start to finish. But perhaps ATVOD are merely getting into the swing of things, and getting more efficient every time they force another harmless independent adult site to disappear.
It seems pretty likely that my visibility as a campaigner has made me a target. In other words, ATVOD are punishing me for speaking out against them. My priorities as a loud-mouthed activist have, it seems, ended up conflicting with my priorities as a creative artist. If I'd kept my head down and stayed quiet, and not attended any protests, or argued against the regulations on the news, or done interviews with the press - if I'd not written a lot of angry blogposts or fundraised £3826 to help Backlash fight the laws - maybe I'd have been left alone a bit longer. But I can't say I have any regrets.
So what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to keep creating my unique brand of feminist spanking fantasies until the last possible moment - I want to publish as many videos as I can before the axe falls. I am consulting closely with Backlash and especially the inimitable Myles Jackman, the UK's top obscenity lawer, and if ATVOD rule against me they will help me appeal to Ofcom. Hopefully, once this has all blown over, we can all look forward to a glorious Dreams of Spanking re-launch next year. But - even more than launching this site in the first place - this is going to be the biggest gamble of my life.