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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Patreon Can't Solve Its Porn Pirate Problem

Last fall, a prolific photographer who asked not to be named noticed a sharp, unexplained drop-off in earnings on his Patreon page, where fans shell out cash for tiered subscriptions to his photos of well-lit nude models. Then, in December, he received an anonymous email with a link to a website called Yiff.Party. When he clicked, he blanched: Thousands of his photos were laid out on the open web for free.

For five years, the libidinous pirates of Yiff.Party have siphoned masses of paywalled Patreon porn off of the platform and shared it for free. Two years ago, Patreon was determined to shut them down. Instead, the platform has effectively given up, despite desperate protests from affected creators.

Yiff.Party doesn’t look like much: a basic, blocky, white and lavender website with a changelog documenting the latest free art dumps and their respective creators. There might be eight new posts an hour, as well as calls for patrons to help fill out incomplete collections. A lot of it is furry porn—“yiff” is a term in the furry community referencing sexual activity—but Yiff.Party hosts anything that falls under the category of “lewds.” That includes smutty cosplays, vanilla softcore, hentai comics, 3D sci-fi sex stills, plus whatever Patreon-hosted art pirates dump there. (Patreon’s guidelines on adult content prohibit “real people engaging in sexual acts such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera.”)

“I am an artist, I live off my work, and sometimes Patreon is the only income I have,” the photographer whose work had been stolen tells WIRED. In bold, capital-lettered text on his Patreon page, he warned “WHOEVER IS DOING THIS” to “PLEASE STOP FUCKING ME OVER.” In the meantime, he can only hope that whichever fox has been gifting him cash with one hand and pirating his works with the other grows a conscience. Because one thing’s for sure: Patreon isn’t helping him, despite a 2018 pledge in Kotaku that it would fight Yiff.Party “vigorously” and “on behalf of our creators.”

This month, the owner of Yiff.Party, who goes by Dozes, sent WIRED a screenshot that he says contains the only two messages in his inbox from the domain @patreon.com: one “Notice of Infringing Material” on July 18, 2018, and a polite follow-up on September 26, 2018. “Patreon has definitely been aware of yiff.party since 2015, but that's the only instance of them directly contacting me,” Dozes says.


Dozes says Yiff.Party receives about unique 95,000 visitors daily and that it’s only growing. He started it, he says, “to archive content,” in part, for fans whose favorite artwork disappears once a creator leaves Patreon or gets banned. In a 2018 interview, Dozes provided a different rationale—“simply to make paid Patreon content available for free”—but said both then and now that he’s not out to get creators or cost them income. Despite this, those whose work has ended up on the site have described reactions ranging from existential sadness to financial anxiety.

Patrons scrape huge amounts of premium Patreon posts and import them onto Yiff.Party, where they are accessible to anyone with at least one click. Dozes says that the site currently stores over 20 terabytes of data and accepts donations that go toward server upkeep.

Despite its gung-ho statement to Kotaku two years ago, Patreon now says its terms of service effectively tie its hands. “We can’t do anything,” says Colin Sullivan, Patreon’s head of legal. “We don’t enforce [copyright] because we don’t have a license to the content.”

Sullivan didn’t hear back from Yiff.Party after those two cease and desist notices; he still hasn’t. Patreon says it also appealed to the company that hosts Yiff.Party, which, according to Sullivan, was based in France. “International hosting companies often turn a blind eye to a lot of things,” he adds.

In May 2019, months after it reached out to Dozes, Patreon posted a blog describing its stance on piracy. “Protecting the works of our creators across the entirety of the internet is not something our policies or enforcement efforts are equipped to handle,” wrote Patreon copyright lawyer Weston Dombroski. He further compares Patreon to a landlord, “limited in both responsibility and the remedies they can seek when theft occurs in your apartment.” Patreon’s “trust and safety” guidelines “give creators as much control of their businesses as possible,” which includes 100 percent ownership of their work.

In other words, it’s legally on Patreon’s creators to enforce copyright on their own work. As Sullivan notes, it’s a good thing that their creators maintain that copyright and not the platform. And yet, with a new post dump every seven minutes or so, Yiff.Party is an increasing menace to Patreon porn society. At least some rental contracts give tenants the power to impel their landlord to install window guards against theft.

Individual attempts at action have also proven fruitless. In what looks like a nod toward generosity, Yiff.Party offers a “Contact” button on the bottom right of its page. Creators have sent DMCA takedown notices to the linked email address—sometimes several—and received no response. As a next step they might try to find Yiff.Party’s host and registrar information to lodge a complaint, which is where things get even more confusing.

Yiff.Party’s backend is a bit of a chimera by design. Dozes employs a bit of tech called a “reverse proxy.” A typical proxy obfuscates the identity of the user accessing a server; a reverse proxy hides the identity of the server the client accesses. Between Yiff.Party’s server and the yiff.party website sits another server. “Yiff.party's main server stays hidden because the ‘real’ IP address isn't being exposed since traffic is routed through a proxy,” says Dozes. Reverse proxies aren’t uncommon; large sites might use one to help them run faster.

“It’s essentially a VPN, but for a website,” Dozes adds. “If our real hosting provider found out they hosted the site, we would be at risk of losing all our data.”

Going through Patreon has not helped much either. One model and content creator who asked to remain anonymous has twice emailed the platform about removing her content from Yiff.Party. One time was in reference to a DMCA takedown request; in the other, she reveals the identity of a suspected pirate patron. In screenshots from January 2020 shared with WIRED, a Patreon support representative told the model that the company “has been made aware of this website and has been taking action against it.” The representative declined to provide a timeline for resolution, and did not share the results of the investigation into the suspicious patron. Her content continues to show up on Yiff.Party.

Platforms large and small have for years relegated responsibility for bad things that happen to their users onto those same users and their personal networks. In the case of Yiff.Party, Patreon appears to be following that same playbook. “For creators, we encourage them to focus on connecting more with their fans and focusing on their patrons who care about them, and not the ones who are going to upload [their work] somewhere else,” Sullivan says.

Creators could use software watermarks or other techniques to root out the culprit. But even that doesn’t provide a solid indicator of who did what. In 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America filed 261 lawsuits against pirates for allegedly sharing songs over P2P networks—with some misfires. IP addresses weren’t immensely helpful in identifying pirates, and sometimes led to false allegations. Patreon says it collects some information that could point to who’s pirating, but that it’s difficult to nail down the culprit or prove their intent.

The head of piracy-focused publication Torrentfreak, who goes by Ernesto Van Der Sar, doesn’t consider what’s going on at Yiff.Party a security issue. He also agrees that it’s nearly impossible to prevent patrons from leaking content, despite identifying software stickers. “You can compare it to Netflix perhaps,” he says. “People with an account there can download and share the content with specialized tools. This is content from major companies that's worth billions of dollars and protected by high-grade DRM. If that's still possible, it will be hard for Patreon to prevent it from happening.”

Last May, a person who went by Jane posted on Yiff.Party’s forum to say they’re the mother of one of the models posted on the site and owns the photos as well. “What is the process of removing these,” she asked. Ever since, Yiff.Party regulars have dutifully shitposted in the thread, some wondering whether it’s a troll post, and others earnestly explaining the ideology behind their piracy.

“There’s really nothing you can do once you post some good stuff online,” said one. Said another, “Nothing you can do. It's a catch22 scenario: if you don't remove it people continue to pirate but if you do take it down the piracy just increases.”

Said a third, “Hi Jane. Welcome to the Internet.” They continued, echoing the first commenter’s sentiments. “Even if you delete it from a website someone somewhere still has a copy of it. This is especially true if it’s hilarious, embarrassing or pornographic in nature. The bigger the deal you make out of it the worst [sic] it gets for you and anyone else involved.”

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