Downloading a hit song or Hollywood movie from BitTorrent might become
an expensive mistake if you find yourself targeted in a lawsuit, but
downloading an adult video might become an expensive and embarrassing
mistake.

That, at least, is what Third World Media is hoping. As CNET News.com
has reported, the California-based adult entertainment studio is filing
suits around the country against John Doe defendants who the studio
alleges illegally downloaded its content through file sharing networks
like BitTorrent. If the courts permit, those John Does will be unmasked
by their ISPs, subjecting them to more than just legal headaches.

Third World Media, of course, is following in the footsteps of the recording and movie industries, which have also used the strategy of filing lawsuits against thousands of defendants in hopes that many of them will opt to settle outside of court.

The fact that the adult entertainment industry is adopting such a strategy makes for an interesting story, particularly as this is an industry often touted as forward-thinking and in many cases, pioneering. For better or worse, the adult entertainment industry played an oftentimes important role in developing various internet technologies and business models that are now common in the mainstream. From streaming video to paid content, many of us in the mainstream can thank, in part, the adult entertainment industry for paving the way.

But the industry that helped paved the way has encountered a rocky road of its own. Extreme competition and hoards of free content has squeezed margins and made it tougher for adult entertainment companies to make a buck online. And like the music and movie industries, the adult entertainment industry faces the scourge of piracy, which many of its players blame for their woes.

So some of them are turning to lawsuits in an effort to fight back. In doing so, they reveal a stark truth many in the mainstream tech industry would rather not face: no matter how tech-savvy or ‘innovative‘ your industry, when push comes to shove, no option is off the table in defending business models that were really, really lucrative — until they weren’t.

The reality, of course, is that digital piracy has created an untenable situation for content creators of all shapes and sizes. While it’s fun to throw stones at record labels and movie studios, if content creators can’t exploit the works they produce as permitted by law, there will be little incentive to continue creating. That hurts everybody, consumers included. But pragmatically-speaking, digital piracy will never be defeated entirely. Which begs the question: what’s the better investment — filing lawsuits or trying to rework your product and business model?

Lawsuits haven’t exactly done much for record labels and movie studios, but the adult entertainment industry is clearly ready to try its hand. It has the embarrassment factor going for it, which may push some defendants to settle when they otherwise wouldn’t have. But if the adult entertainment industry expects lawsuits to solve its problems, it will probably be as disappointed its mainstream media counterparts a few miles south of the San Fernando Valley.