Dan Purcell’s transformation into a content protection vigilante began several years ago, with a moment of personal reckoning. The Irish computer programmer was living in California when his girlfriend at the time persuaded him to perform live on Chaturbate, a site that hosts adult web shows. He did several webcasts with her before deciding it wasn’t for him. He moved on, went back to Ireland, and never thought about it again—until 2018 when his new girlfriend angrily presented him with the videos. “It was very embarrassing,” he says, “very, very, very humiliating.”
Purcell had thought the videos would be streamed live, then disappear, but people had built programs to automatically record the webcam footage. He started a weeks-long hunt for the culprits. Because he’d used his social media handle on Chaturbate—“I still want to beat myself upside the head for this”—he just searched for his own username, along with some obvious keywords. What he discovered was a sprawling online ecosystem of groups dedicated to reselling stolen adult content. And, eventually, a business opportunity.
At first alone, then with a handful of part-time employees, Purcell began hiring himself out as a sleuth and enforcer, helping adult content creators find illegal copies of their photos and videos and get them taken down. Borrowing the Irish word for justice, he named his infant company Ceartas DMCA Ltd., with DMCA referring to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Purcell isn’t alone. As direct-to-consumer adult content has proliferated, an industry has emerged to try to police its piracy of, including such services as DMCA.com, Rulta.com, and TakeDownPiracy.com. They’re filling a growing void at a moment when individuals have more power to create and post their own content online, but less power to control what happens to it.
Figures like Purcell at times employ controversial methods: He says he once sifted through a 14-year-old’s Xbox Live account for personal details, then used the kid’s real name to pressure him into taking down stolen nudes and writing an apology letter. But his customers see him as their last, best option in an industry where tech platforms and the authorities can be slow to take action.
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