What Happened When I Asked Vimeo To Define “Pornography”

Censorship_for_DummiesIf you read my twitter stream you know that last week Vimeo deleted four of my film trailers (and two private full videos) because apparently the films had violated their community guidelines. The original emails I got said:

Hello Ms Naughty (Louise Lush),

Your video “I.M. In Love Trailer” has been removed for violating our Guidelines.

Reason: Vimeo does not allow pornography or sexually explicit material.

If you believe this was an error, please reply to this email in a civil manner with your reasoning (“I see other people do it” is not a valid reason).

Vimeo Guidelines

Vimeo Staff

The other trailers/films deleted were those for The Thought Of Her DVD, Connections DVD and Kaleidogasm 3 (below).

I had carefully edited my trailers into very tame versions, tried my best to fit my content to Vimeo’s  vague guidelines and made guesses about what was acceptable based on what I’d seen elsewhere on Vimeo. I figured nipples might be OK and images of sex where you couldn’t actually see anything.


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Kaleidogasm 3 in particular was a bit of a shock because – while the film makes use of sexual images – it is not sexually explicit nor is it something that could conventionally be considered porn. It is deliberately warped and mirrored to create weird fleshy images and part of the purpose of the film is to raise questions about what makes us aroused (or horrified) and what defines pornography.

In any case, I replied to the email discussing the I.M. In Love Trailer thusly:

Dear Vimeo staff

Can you please clarify your definitions of “pornography” and “sexually explicit”?

This trailer video for my erotic short film was carefully edited so that no nudity was directly visible. I do not consider it to be either porn or sexually explicit.

I.M. In Love has screened at several film festivals around the world.

I would appreciate it if you would restore this video – or give me a chance to edit a different version to your (more specific) standards.


Ms. Naughty

Vimeo replied:

JUN 19, 2013  |  01:50PM EDT

Hi there,

Our moderation team has reviewed your case again and have decided to restore the video “I.M. In Love Trailer”. However, the other videos we have removed do indeed violate our Community Guidelines. We review these on a case-by-case basis we take into consideration not just the video itself but also the video’s description and any links to websites.

As such, we request that you remove any links to the following websites or have your account removed:

Thank you for your cooperation.

Mikey P
Content + Community Apprentice

I replied:

Hi Mikey

So if I do not describe my video as “porn” and I remove the links (which I’ve just done), what else do I need to do to comply with your community guidelines?

Specifically, I want some kind of solid definition of “pornography”, “sexually explicit” and “non sexual nudity”.
At present all I have to go on is the other videos I’ve seen on Vimeo, for example:

“Mine” – a promotional video by GQ Spain. This is obviously an erotic film, it contains nudity in a sexual context and some non-explicit images of sex.

“Cabaret Desire Trailer” – a promotional video for an erotic film by Erika Lust. Contains nudity and sexual scenarios.

“Leave You In Me” – a short film where the actors are naked throughout most of the film, where the subject is sex and where simulated sex is depicted. Is this “non sexual nudity”?

I am a feminist erotic filmmaker. I make videos that both arouse AND explore sexuality, gender and relationships. I do my best to be artistic in this endeavour and my films have won several awards and been screened at international film festivals including Cinekink and the Berlin Porn Film Festival. I am not afraid to use the term “porn” to describe my work but I do consider it to be different to the majority of what many define as “porn”. I can just as easily use the term “erotic”. Words matter, it seems.

Today Vimeo removed my short film Kaleidogasm 3. This film was made up of images of sex that have been distorted to created a surreal effect. The film does not actually contain any sexually explicit material because the images do not show sex, per se, just strange, fleshy shapes. I consider that film to be a work of art and part of the reason I made that film is because it examines the idea of “what is a sexual image? Does it matter if you distort it? Is it still sexy?” Unfortunately Vimeo have now have labelled it pornography and censored it. In the absence of any actual clear guidelines this comes down to a simple matter of taste on the part of the staff member who deleted it. I would ask that you restore it.

I did my best to edit the trailers of my films into forms that Vimeo would accept, based mainly on what I’d seen elsewhere. I have no other guidelines to go on other than the extremely vague terms of “pornography”, “non sexual nudity” and “sexually explicit” and the ways in which others have interpreted those terms.

If you can see genitals, is it explicit?
If you can see nipples, is it explicit? Only female nipples or male nipples too?
If the subject deals with sex and if the actors are nude and simulating sex, is that explicit or porn?
How do you know the difference between simulated and real sex if you can’t see genitals?
If it *looks* artistic, does that make a difference?
If the images exist purely to arouse, is that porn? Even if there’s no nudity in those images? What if someone gets aroused at, say, images of feet?

I wanted to use the Vimeo service because I had thought that the approach to erotic film was a little more advanced and open-minded that other video sites.

I am an independent filmmaker, a one-woman operation, trying to get my films out into the world. If you believe I should be using the Pro service, let me know. I hadn’t done so because the terms there said: “The first two rules do not apply to small scale independent production companies, non-profits, and artists who want to use the Vimeo Service to showcase or promote their own creative works.”

Mikey, I would like to continue using Vimeo and I will pay for it if necessary. I would like to re-edit the trailers that have been censored so that they can fit the guidelines. But it would help if I knew exactly how best to please whoever it is that makes these decisions.


Ms. Naughty

Vimeo replied:

JUN 20, 2013  |  12:44PM EDT

Hi there,

As I mentioned, we review each video on a case-by-case basis and therefore there is no exclusive definition that we use to determine whether or not a video violates our Community Guidelines. Our moderation team has agreed that the removed videos did indeed violate our Community Guidelines, and we are not interested in hosting them on Vimeo.

I see that you have removed the hyperlinks to the sites as requested, but any text listing the websites’ domain addresses needs to be removed.

Regarding the videos from other users that you feel violate our Community Guidelines: With such a gigantic community and library, it is not possible for staff to review every video. Therefore, we truly appreciate the efforts of Vimeo users to bring inappropriate content to our attention. If you’re signed in and you encounter a video that you’re concerned about — or that potentially violates our guidelines — you can use the Flag link located in the lower right corner under any video. Choose from the options that best fit your reason for flagging the video. Flagging a video will bring the entire account to the attention of our Support Staff. We will review it and then take the appropriate action.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Mikey P
Content + Community Apprentice

Don’t you just love how, after refusing to give any useful definition and essentially telling me to fuck off, he then schools me in informing on other erotic filmmakers so they too can be censored just like me?

The rule about removing the links and even any mention of the domain addresses is not in the guidelines at all. It applies only to me, apparently. I did as they said, although I told readers to google my sites as Vimeo had prevented me from mentioning the site domain name. The Indigo Lush site isn’t even a porn site, it’s my official film page where I detail what movies I’ve made and what festivals I’ve been screened at.

So I thought I’d post this correspondence. It may be of use to other filmmakers who are thinking of using Vimeo’s hosting service.  It shows that you can be arbitrarily deleted for unknowingly breaking the non-existent guidelines and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your fate is entirely up to the whim of some “apprentice” and other unseen “moderation team” members who can make up their own definitions of pornography according to their religion, their philosophy major, their own private squicks or what they had for lunch that day.

I know I don’t have to use Vimeo. Certainly I can host my own vids on any of my existing domains and I do that for my commercial sites. The reason I have trailers on Vimeo is to get traffic to my sites and publicize my work. Given the increasingly restrictive environment surrounding sexual content and Google’s recent downgrading of adult sites in their search algorithm, I need to use any and all ways to get my message out there so I can make money and make more films.

I chose to put my stuff on Vimeo because I thought they were more open minded and professional about erotic content… dare I say, more grown up about it. Obviously not.

Sex is just as legitimate a subject for filmmaking as gory horror film or weepy romance. I am trying to make erotic films that are smarter and more artistic than your average porno… but then, I shouldn’t be snobby about it. Explicit depictions of sex created purely to arouse have just as much of a right to exist as my Kaleidogasm film.

Vimeo has just launched their video-on-demand service which allows filmmakers to monetize their films – everyone except people who make films about sex, that is. In ghettoizing and censoring erotic content Vimeo is not only leaving money on the table, they are helping to suppress legitimate erotic expression. They are also making it a lot harder for feminist filmmakers like myself to try and create something more positive and less sexist than most mainstream porn.

If you think porn is bad, why censor those who are trying to make it better?

10 Replies to “What Happened When I Asked Vimeo To Define “Pornography””

  1. OK, but Vimeo does clearly state no porn/sexually explicit content. So maybe erotic film-makers could take a hint and not use it for even censored versions of their trailers?

    They do not, and could not give you or anyone else a definition because Porn et all is pretty hard to define. A PG 13 movie might have a nipple, and even an orgasm on screen, while a pornography might be filmed where everyone is covered from the ankle to the neck, and no sex happens at all. Has a judge not even said: ~I cannot defended it, but I know it when I see it~

    “I chose to put my stuff on Vimeo because I thought they were more open minded and professional about erotic content…”
    “Vimeo does not allow pornography or sexually explicit material.” AKA erotic content.
    They do not say, do not post sick disgusting things, they say “sexually explicit material” aka erotic, basically.

    1. Wow, thanks for sticking up for Vimeo there, Jonathon. I’m just going to assume this comment is trolling on your behalf since you haven’t read the post properly. Or you are the kind of authoritarian follower who doesn’t question rules. “But why can’t the black people just sit at the back of the bus? It’s the law. Can’t they take a hint?”

  2. I’m going to agree with Jonathon here. Vimeo is a privately owned company, and has the right to block or censor whatever they see fit without giving an explanation (within their legal limits of course). It seems that you somehow feel entitled to being able to show your stuff on somebody else’s platform, but that’s a really stupid mentality. If this was some sort of disagreement with a government entity, you would have a leg to stand on, but I fully support the right of businesses to decide how they do business (unless the way they do business is in some way illegal).

    1. I said in the post – I know I don’t *have* to use Vimeo. And yes, I agree that they’re a privately owned company and they can do what they like. Nonetheless, it’s still worth challenging companies about their bias against erotic content. Because exactly WHY is it necessary to ban sexual material? What *exactly* is the problem here?

      Faced with increasing corporate censorship across the web, it’s becoming increasingly hard to promote my work (please read this post about that http://www.msnaughty.com/blog/2013/07/03/clitblocked-by-google/). So I feel like I DO have to use Vimeo. It’s become a commercial necessity. And I believe that my work is worthwhile and does not deserve to be censored arbitrarily. Secondly, I did my very best to comply with their guidelines. And I asked them for a definition to better help me comply with their guidelines. But they refused to let me do that. So therein lies my complaint.

  3. They find it necessary to ban erotic material because a very large portion of their customers and viewers find it offensive, and they don’t want to alienate the people who make them money. It’s really that simple. I find no fault in that.

    1. “They find it necessary to ban erotic material because a very large portion of their customers and viewers find it offensive”
      – Citation needed.
      “Erotic material”
      – Define “erotic”.
      “The people who make them money”
      – Who are these people?
      Jeremy, you are entitled to your opinion, though I find it strange that you would express your support of people who are offended by porn on an adult blog. By all means, take yourself somewhere else that is nice and safe and non-offensive.

  4. Yes, Vimeo is a private company, so yes, they can manage their content as they see fit. However, I think the issue here is larger. Social media is increasingly becoming the platform for free and open expression. One’s Vimeo account or Facebook feed or tweeting is increasingly becoming the central platforms for the discussion of our modern world. Do we have freedom of speech on social media? Technically, no. Should we? That’s a question that is now being discussed. It is not a given that censorship on social media is valid.

    The other significant issue that Ms. Naughty is highlighting is a little more subtle. The content difference between the sides of the correspondence was laughable. Ms. Naughty was clearly trying to understand, trying to converse, and Mikey was just doing his job as a clamped down customer service bot-human. The human side of these massive Internet companies has all but disappeared. We hear them when they make updates, in other words, we hear them when they get to showcase their work. And that’s pretty much it. Customer service is essentially non-existent with social media. We use these services as integral elements of our lives. But when we actually connect with the people on the other side of the service, we are to be treated as children, as problems to quell, not guests or members to serve.

    Jonathon and Jeremy, I’d say you’re simplifying.

    1. Thanks Simone, these are excellent points. The second paragraph rings true now that I’m trying to get in contact with the human-bots at Google+ with no success.

  5. “Vimeo is a private corporation and can censor as it pleases.”

    “Vimeo censors porn because its viewers find it offensive. If you don’t like it, tough…go elsewhere.”

    “You believe you are entitled to post your porn here…who the hell are you??”

    Here’s why all these arguments are simply bogus.

    Yes, Vimeo has their rights as a private company, but there is still this thing called the First Amendment which sets a minimum standard of free speech protection.

    The main thing, though, is that Vimeo as a social media corporation was founded and claims to be set up as opening up access for everyone to social media. And that means EVERYONE, not just “everyone except those we don’t like that post content we might get squicked over.” If they are that concerned about sexually based content, then they should make their terms explicit and enforce them across the board, not merely arbitrarily focus on limited material and pick and choose their spots to harass and stalk. You simply can’t call yourself a universal social media service and still deny your services to a significant majority of users merely because of what they decide to post upsets your delicate fee fees.

    Most other social media sites have found ways to balance the right to offer their social media to more explicit adult content with the means to protect their other users from inappropriate and unwanted exposure. That Vimeo has decided not to partake those means and simply not allow material they consider “pornographic” or “obscene” is their right, but we do have the right to be critical of it as morally wrong and counterproductive to the stated goals of the company.

    Finally, this goes to an increasingly disturbing trend to treat adult sexual content the way politically Left thought was treated during the McCarthy Era: diminish sexual speech and reduce it to segregated spaces hidden far away and inaccessible from the general public (through erasing their existence in browser search engines and SEO algorithms), yet “public” enough to be monitored and potentially sanctioned, harassed, and even eliminated through corporate and legal actions. Just as the anti-“sex trafficking” movement has used this tactic sucessfully to wipe out sexual speech through sites like Backpage and Craigslist; the antiporn movement (both its Christian Right and neofeminist “Left” variants) has been hard at work using the power of the State and private corporate monopolies to further reduce if not eliminate entirely accessability of sexual media to the public airwaves and Internet.

    Given that, it is more than ever that social media companies who claim to be fully committed to full free speech protections and an open and expansive Internet need to draw the line and openly challenge such direct censorship. Given the recent cave-in of Tumblr to the edicts of Yahoo! and Google in not so slowly squeezing adult sexual content out of their venues (or privatizing/monetizing them for their own profits), the attitude of Vimeo and its defenders here is simply a surrender.

    Adult media should fight harder and stronger for their right to a safe and unfettered space for their speech, no less than any other speech medium. Companies like Vimeo should not be taken off the hook just because they say some users are “offended” by naked boobs or an erection or the sight of a woman’s clitoris.

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