It was big news back in 2009 when Australian porn “but don’t call it porn” producer Abbywinters.com got caught up in that special flavor of down-under anti-porn hysteria and ran into legal difficulties. The boss was arrested and multiply charged, but he subsequently beat most of the charges, although he did have to pay a fine in connection with a female ejaculation movie that the authorities thought featured urination, an illegal “fetish” in Australia. And then, quite famously, he upped and relocated his entire business to Amsterdam.

I was reminded about all of this when I stumbled upon a detailed story from late last year in an Australian newspaper. What particularly caught my eye was this detail about a controversy over whether there ever was an “Abby Winters” or whether “she” was a fiction propounded by the site’s current owner, one Garion Hall:

Hall claims that, in the late ’90s, he met a woman called Abby Winters at the Corner Hotel in Richmond who was interested in making a female-friendly porn site using non-professional models, and that he slowly became more and more involved in the venture as the site attracted customers. He maintains that Winters sold her share of the business to him in 2003, by which time it was run from a converted church in hipster Fitzroy, just off Brunswick Street.

And just who was this person whose name adorned the site? Where was she? Doubt began to circulate widely about the semi-mythical Abby Winters. Hall had always claimed she was the co-founder and the one who came up with the idea of depicting “wholesome” girls in the first place. But when the porn weblog Fleshbot.com ran a photograph of Hall at work with a name tag saying “Abby” and revealed that whoever wrote the site’s forum posts as “Abby” sometimes signed them off as “G”, it seemed the ruse was up. Critics say Hall concocted the name to make the site appear more female-friendly and “safe”.

“She’s the namesake,” Hall tells me, “and I’m the business guy. We met and had the idea in 1999. She’s a photographer who went to uni and did arts and wanted to make something different to mainstream porn. Then, around 2003, she didn’t want to be involved any more, so I basically bought her out. It suits me that people don’t think she’s real. It suits her, too. She’s not interested in speaking to journalists.”

So it appears that there are two possibilities here:

1) Abby Winters never existed, and was always a fictional character that Garion Hall operated as a sock puppet over the internet for purposes of better branding his female-friendly erotica;

2) Abby existed as Hall claims, but he operated her identity as a sock puppet for some years after buying her out in 2003.

Neither of these alternatives is particularly scandalous; in the colorful annals of porn marketing, a bit of marketing sock-puppetry barely trips the Deceit-O-Meter. But nobody likes to be misled by a sock puppet, and no publisher likes to be duped into unknowingly publishing sock puppetry. Thus it was mostly (but not entirely) with amusement that I realized ErosBlog had dealings with Hall’s “Abby Winters” sock puppet back in the early days.

When Abbywinters.com was, briefly, an advertiser at ErosBlog back in 2007, all of my dealings were with marketing professionals. But in 2004, I ran a photo that was (falsely, and the falsity was so obvious I called it out in the post title) being circulated as a “topless Chelsea Clinton” image: Fake Celebrity Nude Photos. In response to that I got an email from Jonno at Fleshbot, telling me “nope, it’s Abbey Winters”. Which (wrong) info I duly added to the post.

And that’s when the sock puppet appeared! Someone claiming (in 2004, after Hall says the real Abby Winters had been bought out) posted the following comment, with links not reproduced here:

Er, that ain’t Chelsea, and nor is it me! It’s Samantha, a model I photographed in late 200, in Sydney, Australia. As someone has seen fit to remove my copyright from the image, check the whole set of her. Her solo shoto is here, and her shoot which that image is from (wither her mate, Tully) is here.

By now the identity/deception meta is so deep you almost need a shovel. Somebody, perhaps Garion Hall, posts as Abby Winters, who may or may not have ever existed, to explain that a photo of somebody probably not actually named Samantha is certainly not a photograph of Chelsea Clinton, which nobody ever thought it was was in the first place. It’s a rum old internet we’ve got going on, yes indeed.

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