Turning to porn to survive

Turning to porn to survive

OnlyFans creators wary of legal status as pandemic squeezes income

"In January, for example, I earned $5,400, not counting my earings from VIP subscribers." -- Identity withheld, Onlyfans content creator

The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged many people around the world into financial hardship, and many individuals -- including Thai citizens -- have turned to producing their own, adult content on the British social media platform OnlyFans, in order to survive.

In fact, Thailand's harsh pornography laws don't seem to deter desperate content creators, some of whom said they had to resort to the infamous social media platform "to get through the pandemic".

A 34-year-old content creator, who was almost forced to give up his T-shirt shop in tourist-reliant Chatuchak market that he has had for 14 years, was among those who turned to the site after the pandemic struck.

"I've used almost all my savings to keep this shop alive. What else could I do, if I didn't turn to OnlyFans?" he said.

On the platform, a visitor must subscribe to each creator for a monthly fee in order to see their pages' content. In addition, visitors can tip the content creator directly -- and 80% of the tip goes directly to the recipient.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of his work, said he decided to produce his own adult content on the site as he has to support his family and pay off his 700,000-baht debt.

He said he asked his friends to help him create an OnlyFans account in May last year.

After earning 30,000 baht from subscriptions in a month, he decided to stop posting until September, saying he was concerned about the public's views on his age and body shape, given his line of work, as well as the legal consequences of his decision.

He then started a juice business, hoping to get back into ordinary work, but gave up after realising it didn't help ease his financial woes as much as he had hoped. So in October, he decided he would go back to posting on OnlyFans until the border restrictions are lifted, so his shop can reopen once more.

"From October onward, I earned around 200,000 baht a month just by posting nude photos, he said.

"If I can keep my account at the top of the national rankings, I think I could pay all of my debt within three months."

When asked about possible legal repercussions, the content creator said he wasn't opposed to legal controls over pornography in public spaces, but since OnlyFans is a "controlled and closed" space, he argued content creators shouldn't be prosecuted -- instead, they should be granted privacy and intellectual property right protection.

"Restrictions should be eased, as age-verification is required to view the content, which is then consumed in limited circles," he said.

"Besides, the performers themselves have invested their time and money to create the contents. They deserve to be protected by the law."

Another content creator, a 27-year-old finance and trading coach who began his OnlyFans account in 2018, said his company stopped paying commissions -- which range between 6,000-9000 baht -- three months before the pandemic began.

When it finally came, he said he even asked his boss to decrease his salary by 26% to help the company stay afloat.

"From 19,000 baht initially, I now earn about 14,000 baht from my company. But I think it's worth it, as the extra time off has allowed me to make 50,000 baht [on OnlyFans]," he said.

In 2018, he allowed subscribers free access to his content, but when the pandemic hit, he began charging a monthly subscription and saw his earnings soar.

"I received between US$5-8 [150-240 baht] in tips per viewers when I started my free account. Since I started charging subscribers for access to my content, I earn $1,000-6,000 a month," he said.

"In January, for example, I earned $5,400, not counting my earnings from VIP subscribers, who often paid more than 10,000 baht for exclusive content."

He said he is now planning to buy another room exclusively for making adult content.

The money that he earned, he said, goes towards paying his family's debts and healthcare, which effectively makes him his family's main breadwinner.

"Sometimes, my mum would ask me how could I earn so much," he laughed, adding he also invests in the stock market and other businesses.

Natchapol Jittirat, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Law, said adult content creators cannot demand protection under the law when their photos and videos are unlawfully disseminated by others, as under Thai laws, the content is considered "obscene" material.

In fact, he said, they risk being prosecuted under existing laws.

"We need to look at the place where the content is uploaded" he said, "According to Section 4 of the Penal Code of Thailand on Jurisdiction, if it's uploaded inside the Kingdom of Thailand, Thai courts have the power to enforce the Computer Crime Act."

In Thailand, publishing "obscene" content online is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a 100,000-baht fine, or both. Furthermore, as pornography is considered by law to be a disruption to peace in society, anyone can file a complaint with relevant authorities.

While some may consider OnlyFans to be a private space as it requires payment to access its content, Mr Natchapol said that the courts will still consider it to be a public space, as the platform can be easily accessible by anyone with access to the internet.

"If they want to be safe from legal action, they will have to do it outside the Thai courts' jurisdiction and the content must not have any consequences in the kingdom."

He admitted that Thailand's pornography laws need to be updated to catch up with the times, as more kinds of adult content emerge on the internet.

Thai laws, for instance, only make a distinction between general and child pornography.

That said, the legalisation of pornography will ultimately depend on public opinion on the matter -- if they are positive about it, the law can be revised, Mr Natchapol said.

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