There is news today that Patreon has liberalized (a little bit) its stance on what it used to call “NSFW” and now calls “Adult Content”. An article by Lux Alptraum on Motherboard somewhat oversells the news with the misleading headline “Patreon Ends Payments Discrimination Against Adult Content”. Unfortunately the headline doesn’t mean what you’d think it means, because “Adult Content” in this context is a Patreon term of art that (a) Patreon refuses to or is unable to define; and that (b) explicitly excludes “porn” (again not defined). Nonetheless; there is actual good news in the story, and what appears to be real progress on the payments front for adult creators.
Last week [Patreon] sent out an email announcing a couple of changes for its more risque creators. Most notably, creators operating under the “adult content” banner on Patreon can now accept payments through PayPal (or, more accurately, its subsidiary Braintree).
There are a lot of reasons to feel excited about this. For one thing, it straight up makes things easier for Patreon’s Adult Content creators. Until now, Adult Content creators could only accept payments through credit cards, while other types of creators have had PayPal as an additional option for backers. Now, there’s no difference between Adult Content creators and other creators when it comes to payment processing options (though Patreon does distinguish between the two camps in other ways; Adult Content accounts aren’t discoverable through the site’s search function).
According to the Patreon email, the company went aggressively to the mat with the PayPal people, and succussfully argued that these transactions are not any higher-risk than Patreon’s other business:
For creators that have been with us for a while, you may remember that we used to allow this functionality in the past, and we only removed it after PayPal threatened to stop all payments to Patreon. Unfortunately, this is a common issue in the payments industry, both because payments for adult content are subject to a higher rate of chargebacks, and because of an aversion to the content itself among some payment processors.
After many long discussions we were able to convince PayPal, or more specifically their subsidiary Braintree, that Adult Content creators on Patreon are not a serious risk. Our content policy, and the nature of subscription payments, means that Adult Content creators on Patreon are less risky than most creators making adult content. We also have a very diverse mix of content types, so even if our Adult Content creators are higher risk than other types of creators, Patreon as a whole is less risky.
That’s good news. But as I wrote back in May:
I am reluctant to use a crowdfunding platform that’s openly hostile to porn. There seems to be a crowdfunding-industry consensus around allowing adult projects (sort of) as long as they are not “pornography” or “sexually explicit”, leaving those terms undefined. The rules on all platforms currently seem to boil down to some version of “We’ll allow your adult project, but if it becomes contentious or attracts any sort of negative attention, we’re reserving the right to redefine whatever you’re doing as ‘porn’ and blow you off our platform while pretending you were never welcome in the first place.”
At that time, Patreon’s policy was worded like this:
Patreon is not for pornography, but some of the world’s most beautiful and historically significant art often depicts nudity and sexual expression. Because of that, we allow nudity and suggestive imagery, as long as it is marked NSFW. If your work contains nudity or any material that could potentially be offensive to users, make absolutely sure to mark the page as NSFW in the creator description when creating your page. Think of the policy as allowing “R Rated” movies… but not porn.
Their email from last week says:
We are also continuing to clarify what content is acceptable when flagged as Adult Content and what content is not allowed on Patreon.
However, Patreon’s new clarity has not reached the policy, which is word-for-word identical to the old policy except for the change from “NSFW” to “Adult Content”:
Patreon is not for pornography, but some of the world’s most beautiful and historically significant art often depicts nudity and sexual expression. Because of that, we allow nudity and suggestive imagery, as long as it is marked as Adult Content. If your work contains nudity or any material that could potentially be offensive to users, make absolutely sure to mark the page as Adult Content in the creator description when creating your page. Think of the policy as allowing “R Rated” movies… but not porn.
So where does that leave people with adult projects who want to use Patreon? Pretty much in the same place they were before: don’t call it porn, and hope nobody complains. Or as Lux Alptraum puts it:
So where does this all leave indie smut creators? Only time will tell, but for now a bit of cautious optimism seems in order. Adult themed comics like Erika Moen’s Oh Joy Sex Toy would seem to be completely in the clear; as are art nudes and dirty minded podcasts. But people who want to photo and video document actual people fucking? Well, that might come down to the age old question of “art” versus “porn.”
Back in May I wrote that I was reluctant to use a platform that makes me lie about what I do, which I conceptuallize as “porn, or I’m doing it wrong.”
I’m proud of the fact that everything I do is porn, even if it’s also erotic art curation or forensic photoarcheology or deep-dive provenance research into viral photographs or reluctant investigative journalism and cynical commentary about platforms used by pornography enthusiasts. So I’m looking for a crowdfunding platform that won’t make me lie about what I love to do. I don’t doubt that with a bit of careful fancy-dancing I could use one of the porn-squeamish platforms, at least for awhile. But I would hate to get invested (or to get my patrons invested) in a platform where the official policy is to prohibit porn officially while tolerating it on a case-by-case basis as long as it doesn’t get too uppity.
And that’s why I’m torn about the news from Patreon. On the one hand, they still prohibit porn while refusing to say what they mean by that. On the other hand, they have promised greater clarity to come, and it’s clear that they actually went to bat with the payment providers in order to improve their platform for adult content creaters. Is it still fair for cynical me (who sees #pornocalypse under every rock) to call Patreon a “porn-squeamish” platform? Or should we credit them for taking this fight to the payment processors, and give them a free pass (until they abuse it) about maintaining a squishy “no porn” policy, especially if that squishy policy may have helped them in winning some very real progress with PayPal/Braintree?
I’ll admit I’m of two minds. I’m so offended by undefined “no porn” policies that I want to piss on the toes of every company that trots one out. But I also find myself tempted to give Patreon the benefit of the doubt just now. It’s possible they’re doing the best they can for adult content creators, in the context of a business/financial environment that is implacably hostile to us.
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