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Visa could be liable for helping monetize Pornhub videos of children, says court

A California judge is allowing a lawsuit against Visa to proceed, saying the company plausibly knew porn site operator MindGeek was monetizing sexual videos involving children. Judge Cormac Carney issued the ruling late last week in Serena Fleites v. MindGeek et al., rejecting Visa’s attempts to dismiss its portion of the suit. Carney says Visa plausibly “intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn” because it continued to offer payment processing services to the major tube site Pornhub despite knowing the site had failed to moderate videos of minors.

The ongoing lawsuit asserts that MindGeek, Visa, and others violated a series of laws including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The claims stem from a sexually explicit video that was filmed and put on Pornhub featuring the plaintiff, who was a young teenager at the time. Despite being notified that the video was illegal, Pornhub allegedly delayed taking it down for weeks, allowing it to be repeatedly downloaded and reuploaded and earning ad revenue alongside it. Visa later temporarily cut off Pornhub following a New York Times report suggesting the platform had allowed illegal videos despite knowing it was hosting child sexual abuse material.

“Visa lent to MindGeek a much-needed tool — its payment network — with the alleged knowledge that there was a wealth of monetized child porn on MindGeek’s websites,” writes Carney. The ruling notes that after The New York Times published its story on Pornhub and Visa suspended its account, MindGeek removed 10 million videos to assuage its concerns — suggesting that Visa could have pressured the company to moderate its content more carefully. “Visa is not being asked to police ‘the billions of individual transactions it processes each year,’” the order states. “It is simply being asked to refrain from offering the tool with which a known alleged criminal entity performs its crimes.”

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The ruling attempts to differentiate Visa’s conduct from other companies that indirectly work with Pornhub and MindGeek. It says Google, for instance, wouldn’t necessarily face liability for letting Pornhub links appear in search results. “Visa allegedly knowingly provided the very tool through which MindGeek committed its alleged crime of financially benefitting from child porn,” Carney writes. “Even if Google knows that its search engine is being used to drive traffic to a website allegedly teeming with child porn, and thereby indirectly helps that website financially benefit from its illicit content, it would not have provided a tool through which the crime is completed, unlike Visa.”

In a statement to Variety, Visa called the ruling “disappointing,” saying it “will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity,” but “we continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case.” MindGeek noted that the case hasn’t yet been argued on its merits — only on the theory that Visa could be held liable if the allegations are true.

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