Everything I Know about Success in Porn, I Learned from the Grateful Dead

Dec 13, 2013 • Books, Porn, porn, Porn Valley

Everything I know about porn, I learned as a Deadhead

In 2010, the Free Speech Coalition — the adult industry’s trade association and lobbying arm — released a video featuring a number of performers and directors discussing the impact of piracy on their work. The video now appears at the beginning of adult titles from major industry studios.

It’s not simply torrent sites and file lockers that are a concern for the adult industry, but tube sites like YouPorn and others like it, which feature clips from porn films for free, generating revenue through advertisers attracted to the number of pageviews each site commands. All of these sites exploit the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which includes a safe-harbor provision for websites that feature user-generated content — namely, that they can’t be held responsible for the infringement of a user, provided they remove the content right away.

The provision exists as a protection for sites that are not aware of violations and wish to comply with copyright law in good faith. The problem is that not all sites are operating in good faith — some sites pay people to upload infringing content, happily removing it when take-down requests come in, only to send it back out to be uploaded as soon as the clip comes down.

Everyone you speak with in the industry is fast to spell out the evils of this aspect of the web. Everyone except Farrell Timlake, that is. Timlake is the founder of Homegrown Video, a 31-year-old company that specializes in distributing home-made sex tapes. To give you an idea of how massive they are, consider that their eponymous flagship series has over 800 volumes — easily the longest-running series in porn. Homegrown is no small fish in the pond, and yet its founder has a completely different take on piracy.

Yesterday, during a question and answer session on the popular discussion hub Reddit, a user asked Timlake how he dealt with the influx of free content online, and whether there were any lessons from other industries currently fighting to see their intellectual property rights protected.

“I am a massive Deadhead and I learned about the power of ‘free’ content from that experience, where people freely traded bootlegs of the live concerts, and with the band’s consent,” Timlake said.

(He’s not exaggerating about his love of the band, either — in a later comment, he revealed that his wife got him into amateur video as a way for them to be able to attend more Grateful Dead shows.)

Timlake recommended that people looking to retain a foothold in creative industries look to the iconic band. The Grateful Dead encouraged fans to record shows and share their tapes, they engaged with them through a mailing list focusing on creating community. Their model was concert-based instead of album based, their focus was on connection — in this way, they created a fanbase that could freely trade in band paraphernalia without being penalized for their devotion. Several marketing books about this technique exist, among them Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan and Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead by Barry Barnes.

“Homegrown [Video] survives and thrives in the era of free porn by harnessing many of the grassroots, sharing, community lessons I learned by selling tie-dye t-shirts in the greatest parking lots this great country has to offer,” Timlake said.

His views are refreshing given their focus on consumers, but it’s important to remember that Homegrown relies on the content created by amateurs the nation over — they don’t have the same costs that a studio has. There is no director, no crew, no performer, no necessary permit, no need to comply with testing requirements or the condom ordinance, even. The people in the videos, after all, are intimate partners, not adult industry professionals. The cost in the case of Timlake’s empire looks a lot different than it does for other adult studios. In a way, he can afford to be generous — his generosity ensures the generosity of engaged consumers who might at some point return the favor, by submitting their sex tapes to Homegrown.

Header image by Keith.