XVideosThe porn empire next door

The world’s most visited porn site operates in the heart of Europe. Survivors of sexualized violence are raising serious accusations against XVideos. The trail of XVideos leads to the Czech Republic, France – and Germany.

House in Prague - address of the world's largest porn empire.
Krakovská 1366/25 in Prague – address of the world’s largest porn empire. – House: Google Street View; Screenshot: XVideos.com; Editing: netzpolitik.org

Nine minutes, 53 seconds, orgasm. This is the average visit duration of the world’s biggest porn site XVideos. Every day millions upon millions of people visit this one place on the web that hardly anyone talks about. A secret giant. Ranked 10th most visited website in the world. Not even amazon.com gets this many clicks.

Videos on XVideos are made available to a global public. Countless users reveal their erotic fantasies with their clicks. Who’s in charge of such a huge platform?

Leading heads of Facebook, Google and Twitter give interviews. Whistleblowers expose their problems. But you don’t hear anything about XVideos, especially in Germany. And this despite the fact that many of the companies behind XVideos are located in the middle of Europe: in the Czech Republic. The traces of the porn empire lead from Prague via France to Düsseldorf.

Other porn platforms have been experiencing a wave of criticism and anger for almost two years. First and foremost Pornhub and xHamster, XVideos‘ most important competitors. Together, the three giants dominate the porn market. Pornhub and xHamster, for example, have distributed nude photos of people who never wanted to show themselves in public in this way. For a long time, the hurdles against the dissemination of sexualized violence were kept low. This was followed by international outrage, petitions, court cases, proposed legislation. XVideos remained under the radar in all of this.

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That is changing. These days, authorities are also investigating XVideos. Survivors of sexualized violence are going public. The EU is planning stricter laws that would also affect the platform. We report on the accusations against XVideos, follow the platform’s incredible rise to the top of the world – and show why things could soon change for XVideos.

This article is part of a series. In another article, we trace the rise of XVideos to the top of the world in online pornography. ZDF Magazin Royale, a show of public broadcasting in Germany, covers XVideos and other porn platforms in their March 11 show.

The world’s largest porn empire sits in the middle of Prague

Krakovská 1366/25 in Prague - laundromat, porn empire, strip club.
Krakovská 1366/25 in Prague – laundromat, porn empire, strip club. - CC-BY 4.0 Photo: netzpolitik.org

If you take a city trip to Prague, you will definitely walk through the Old Town, across Wenceslas Square to the National Museum, a magnificent building with domes decorated in gold. Just around the corner, about 150 meters away, is XVideos.

Dozens of companies are registered to this one, unassuming postal address: Krakovská 1366/25. A driveway leads to a backyard. To the left is a laundromat, to the right a strip club. On the wall, several plaques, including one that reads „WGCZ holding.“ The abbreviation stands for Web Group Czech, an inconspicuous name. „Web Group“ – that sounds like an average internet company. But behind it is the world’s largest porn empire.

The most powerful man behind the holding company is Stéphane Pacaud. He holds 93 percent of the shares, as can be seen from the annual report for 2019, published in the Czech commercial register. The remaining seven percent belong to a Hong Kong company, according to the report. A more recent annual report is not online, the key data may have changed since then.

A Frenchman is behind the most visited porn site

Who is Stéphane Pacaud? While bosses of other platforms like Facebook, Amazon or Telegram communicate publicly, the man behind XVideos avoids the media. Almost nothing is known about him – except his name.

According to documents from the Czech commercial register, Pacaud was born in 1978 and has an address in France. The French business magazine Challenges ranks Pacaud as the 245th richest person in France. The magazine estimates his wealth at 400 million euros. Such estimates may differ from reality.

In 2019, a French TV station claims to have made contact with Pacaud, at least on Skype. But the person on the other end had not provided any evidence that he was really Pacaud. Not even a photo. The face and voice of the world’s most powerful porn executive are not known to the public.

For the porn industry, that’s not even that unusual. Pacaud is not the only one keeping a low profile. Until recently, no one knew who owned the porn empire around Pornhub and who was behind xHamster.

We tried several times to reach Pacaud for an exchange, for example via the official e-mail addresses of his companies. One anonymous person responded to our detailed list of questions. The name „XVideos Admin“ appeared in their e-mail address. However, the person did not disclose their identity. Not even when we explicitly asked whether the person was in fact Stéphane Pacaud.

Trail to the Caribbean: The tangled corporate web of XVideos

Many other parts of the porn empire can be traced through Stéphane Pacaud. According to the Czech commercial register, for example, he is a director of a company with a name similar to „WGCZ Holding, a.s.„, namely „Web Group Czech Republic a.s.„. This company operates the porn site XVideos.com. According to the commercial register, Pacaud also owns 93 percent of „NKL Associates s.r.o.“ – which is the operator of another huge porn site called XNXX.

According to the annual report of WGCZ Holding, Pacaud also has a stake in „Web Group Limited“ in the British Virgin Islands. The small state in the Caribbean is known as a tax haven.

According to the commercial register, Pacaud also owns 95 percent of the company behind „Traffic Factory“. This is the contact point for anyone who wants to advertise on XVideos. Advertisers can choose porn genres for their ads, from „anal“ to „BDSM“ to „workout“. Traffic Factory advertises on its own website that it can play ads for 200 million visitors per day. This figure shows the gigantic reach of the porn empire. That would be equivalent to the population of Germany, France, the Czech Republic and Poland combined.

A promotional clip on Traffic Factory’s YouTube channel gives a rare glimpse behind the scenes. Amid generic shots of businesspeople in ties and blazers, which are also available for purchase from a stock photo provider, it shows what appears to be a real office.

An office with tables, chairs and people, large clocks on the wall. Are ads for 200 million daily visitors managed here?
An office with tables, chairs and people, large clocks on the wall. Are ads for 200 million daily visitors managed here? - Screenshot: YouTube / Traffic Factory; Pixelation: netzpolitik.org

White desks. A man in a black T-shirt sits in front of his laptop. Clocks showing the abbreviations of world metropolises hang on the wall. The largest clock hangs under the abbreviation „PRG,“ Prague. Our questions about where the office is located and how many people work there remained unanswered.

The deeper you dig, the wider the corporate network spreads out before you. This can be traced with the help of papers from the Czech commercial register. In addition to Pacaud, other names show up. Among them are a Czech entrepreneur named Robert William Seifert, a Marjorie Grocq and a Malorie Pacaud. According to the papers, Malorie Pacaud has the same date of birth as Stéphane Pacaud. A twin sister? Another question that was not answered to us.

For the four businesspeople, this one address, Krakovská 1366/25, probably has a special meaning. Dozens of businesses are listed on the signs to the street alone. In about 30 of these companies, Grocq, Seifert and the two Pacauds have leadership roles in various constellations, such as on the board of directors, management or supervisory board.

We sent them questions via several e-mail addresses; wanted to know what purpose the extensive network of companies serves, including the company in the tax haven. Only the „admin“ of XVideos responded. „We don’t have much time to answer so many questions,“ he wrote. In our reply, we made it clear that we don’t want to miss any opportunity to understand the background and we would be happy to give „admin“ two more weekdays for more detailed explanations. No response.

The rise of the porn empire began 20 years ago

Probably the oldest trace of what would one day become the world’s largest porn empire dates back to 2002: a website called XNXX.com, promising new hardcore photos with „cumshots“ and „big tits“ every day. From 2003 at the latest, XNXX.com belonged to Stéphane Pacaud, as can be seen from a domain archive entry. The platform is something like the older sister of XVideos, and it still exists. In the ranking of the most visited websites, XNXX is in 13th place, just three places behind XVideos. The ranking comes from the analytics company SimiliarWeb.

The two most visited porn sites in the world have been closely linked for a long time. In 2006, visitors to XVideos are sent to XNXX via a link. In this year also the name Stéphane Pacaud appears for the first time in domain archives as the owner of XVideos.com.

In 2007, XVideos already looks almost like it does today: a window full of video tiles, YouTube for porn. „BIGGER and BETTER than the others,“ was the slogan back then. The growth has been rapid. In 2008, the platform says it has around 13,000 videos. A year later, there are 90,000. XVideos cracks the million mark in 2011. Today, it says, there are more than ten million videos.

A bar chart shows the growth in the number of videos on XVideos since 2008 to around 10 million videos today.
XVideos lists the total number of available videos on its own home page. In this way, the growth of the platform can be traced through entries from the Internet archive. We asked XVideos why the number of videos seems to have declined in 2017 – no answer. The numbers were read in April for each year from 2008 to 2021, and in February for 2022. - CC-BY 4.0 Data source: XVideos.com; Image: netzpolitik.org

Porn videos can be uploaded to XVideos by anyone who has any. Whether you also own the copyright is another question. This is exactly what the operators of porn sites are arguing about in an industry forum called „Go Fuck Yourself“.

The annoyed members rail against piracy, referring to site operators who distribute videos without rights. XVideos also has to listen to this accusation – and counters it. In a message to all „haters,“ an account named XVideos wrote in 2014: „If every site was like xvideos there would be no more piracy problem.“

XVideos refers to its own upload filter, a technology that has become commonplace on major porn platforms. Rightholders can deposit a digital fingerprint of their works. All new uploads are checked against this catalog of fingerprints. This shall prevent the distribution of protected videos.

Huge investment made XVideos more powerful

The tone on „Go Fuck Yourself“ only hints at how businessmen are vying for the top spot in the world of online porn. The companies behind the platforms are buying up porn studios, buying each other out, and doing everything they can to bring people to their sites. Industry media talk of fierce competition between giants with „voracious appetite“.

If you’d like to watch porn and don’t know where to find it, you might just try… porno.com. This website really exists, and it links to XVideos and XNXX. To be able to set these links, a lot of money must have been spent. In 2015, the domain porno.com changed hands for $8,888,888. At the time, this was one of the most expensive domain sales in Internet history. The media reported a company in Prague as the alleged buyer. XVideos didn’t answer our question whether Stéphane Pacaud was the one responsible for the purchase.

The operators of XVideos put down even more money in 2018: The Playboy competitor called Penthouse was up for sale after going bankrupt. For $11.2 million, the brand became part of the Czech porn empire.

A German lawyer represents the world’s largest porn site

Besides the address with the dozens of companies in Prague, there is another place that plays a role in the porn empire. It is located more than 550 kilometers away, within walking distance of the Rhine promenade in Düsseldorf. Here sits a law firm where Dr. Daniel Kötz works, a specialist lawyer for copyright and media law. On XVideos and XNXX, he is called the „designated Copyright Agent„. This means that he is the designated agent, for example, if someone complains that a video should be deleted.

Reference to the law firm of Dr. Kötz in the takedown form on XVideos.com
XVideos says of its copyright agent, „We could have hired someone on an isolated island.“ - Screenshot: XVideos.com; edit: netzpolitik.org

Kötz has also published an article on German website anwalt.de about private videos on porn platforms. There, lawyers present their legal tips for interested parties and potential clients. The article states that Kötz „sees videos with content that violates personal rights being uploaded on a daily basis and is familiar with their removal.“ Apparently, Kötz has been working for XVideos since 2014. This is shown in an official document from the USA (PDF), where many providers register an official copyright agent.

On XVideos, users can fill out a notification form if they believe that recordings should be removed. The automatically sent confirmation mail contains the former postal address of the law firm in Düsseldorf. We wanted to know from Daniel Kötz what exactly his job is with such complaints. Kötz told us that he could not comment further without a response from his client.

The „admin“ of XVideos said that Mr. Kötz had been recommended to them many years ago. „His job is merely to receive notices for us“. There is no connection to Germany, he said. „We could have hired someone on an isolated island.“

Survivors of image-based violence make accusations against XVideos

Until late last year, it probably didn’t take more than an email address to post photos and videos on XVideos. Accessible to a potential audience of millions. These were very low hurdles for people who wanted to distribute recordings of others without their consent, so-called voyeur recordings or „revenge porn.“

Many survivors criticize these terms because they express the perspective of the perpetrators. Experts prefer to speak of image-based sexual abuse (IBSA). It stands for an understanding of violence that is not limited to direct physical violence. To disseminate intimate recordings of a person against their will is also considered to be violence. In addition to possible sexual gratification, the satisfaction of power needs also plays a role.

In the USA, a woman is currently suing XVideos and its operators as part of a civil class action. At the age of 14, she was allegedly forced to have sex and make pornographic recordings. The videos were then distributed on XVideos. We report more on this here.

Radical porn opponents want the end of XVideos

Criticism of porn giants like XVideos comes from very different camps. On the one hand, survivors of IBSA are fighting for their rights – while supporting pornography per se. On the other hand, the debate is fueled by religious fundamentalists. They want to abolish pornography in principle, including consensual and self-determined content.

Behind the class action lawsuit against XVideos is an organization called the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). The activists generally regard sexual services as forcible exploitation and want to abolish them, as can be seen from their website. Another organization called „Exodus Cry“ is behind a petition against Pornhub that has reportedly collected more than two million signatures. Pornhub has also been lobbied against by NCOSE, according to its own information, before the US Congress.

Both organizations use the term „abolitionism“ for their demands. In the past, it meant the abolition of slavery. Today, the activists mean the abolition of commercial sex and pornography. Obviously, they do not want to acknowledge that many people voluntarily use their right to sexual self-determination to do sex work or pornography. According to this worldview, large platforms like XVideos should not even exist.

Public pressure from anti-porn activism probably also contributed to Visa and Mastercard withdrawing from Pornhub in 2020. The two service providers no longer process payments for the porn giant. For XVideos, Mastercard and Visa are apparently still available. In response to our inquiry, Mastercard says that it wants to contact the responsible bank. A German spokeswoman for VISA says: „We pay close attention to preventing illegal activities in our network.“

The Czech Casting case: accusation of rape during filming

Numerous professional porn studios have accounts on XVideos, one of them is Czech Casting. The videos have several million views there. The company Netlook is behind Czech Casting. The public prosecutor’s office in Prague is currently investigating several Netlook employees. They are accused of coercing women into pornographic shoots against their will. Some were temporarily in custody and are now free again. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the charges include human trafficking, rape and sexual assault.

The case was preceded by a scandal that was widely reported in the Czech media: police officers locked the doors of an office complex in the Vokovoce district of Prague in the summer of 2020. They carried computers out of the offices of the company Netlook. Previously, 18 women had told the police how they had appeared at a casting call for models. They claimed to have been presented with contracts for a porno shoot and that they were then forced to have sex with a cameraman under the threat of high contractual penalties

The company denied the account to Denik N, saying that the women had voluntarily participated in the shoot. A press inquiry from us remained unanswered. According to the public prosecutor’s office, evidence is currently being taken for the proceedings. We asked XVideos why they continue to show clips from Czech Casting. XVideos said, „They are innocent until proven guilty.“

The LegalPorn case: alleged violations in hardcore recordings

Another case from the Czech Republic involves a company with even closer ties to XVideos: GITFLIX TV, a WGCZ Holding company. GITFLIX TV is behind LegalPorno, a brand for videos from the hardcore genre, now renamed AnalVids.

In early 2021, Czech newspaper Denik N published a report about LegalPorno. According to it, there were allegedly violent practices during the filming. The report refers to statements made by performers and cannot be verified. LegalPorno has denied the allegations to Denik N.

According to the newspaper, the actresses were given painkillers so that they could continue filming despite bleeding and injuries. One actress had to be treated in the hospital afterwards, it says. For fear of the consequences by the influential porn enterprises, none of the alleged survivors reported the case, the article says.

Confronted with the research, Stéphane Pacaud first reached out by phone, reports Denik N. After that, the newspaper received an e-mail saying that the accusations were fictitious. Another porn producer was running a disinformation campaign and paying models for false accusations, it said. XVideos reiterated this account to netzpolitik.org. The „admin“ also wrote about a „bunch of garbage“ and that the journalists were „very likely paid“.

Germany: Media regulator takes action against XVideos

XVideos is also a hot topic in Germany. Here, the responsible media supervisory authority is currently taking stronger action against XVideos and other porn sites. The state media authorities want to enforce tough age controls on porn sites. All to prevent minors from watching porn. To meet the requirements of German youth protection, porn sites are to introduce strict age checks, for example by presenting ID cards.

Unsurprisingly, this is not exactly met with enthusiasm by porn sites. Such hurdles could deter millions of visitors. None of the three giants – xHamster, Pornhub, XVideos – has joined in so far. That’s why they’re now getting into trouble with the media regulator. In general, such proceedings can drag on for years. At the very end, there is the threat of a network block. In this case, a porn site could no longer be accessed in Germany without tricks. The proceedings at XVideos‘ competitor xHamster are already further advanced, and work is being done on a possible network block.

XVideos has also been asked by the responsible state media authority to comply with German youth protection laws. „The proceedings against XVideos have not yet been concluded,“ writes a press spokeswoman.

How XVideos does very little against sexualized violence

XVideos sharply criticizes the plan: It is being pushed by „anti-porn hypocrites who are just using kids as an excuse to destroy the porn industry“ The expensive age control would destroy companies. Users would switch to other websites. To protect children, he said, free parental controls must be offered on all devices. „Approaching this problem by verifying adults instead of kids only demonstrates that we live in a real idiocracy. „

If one day XVideos is also threatened with network blocking, the platform would probably be prepared. A network block in Germany is initially only directed against one domain, for example: xvideos.com. For the blocking of further domains, tough procedures would have to be initiated again. The platform is already available under xvideos2.com, xvideos3.com and xvideos4.com.

EU: Planned laws will hit porn platforms

New laws could also soon regulate the platform more strictly. For several years, the EU has been working on a kind of new basic law for the Internet. Now it is almost ready: the Digital Services Act. The negotiations are not yet over. But one thing is already becoming apparent. In the future, anyone who wants to upload something to porn sites would have to register beforehand with an e-mail address and cell phone number. At least in Germany, cell phone numbers and SIM cards can no longer be purchased anonymously. So the time of anonymous uploads on porn sites would be over.

For XVideos, this could change a lot. Currently, a largely anonymous upload on XVideos is still possible. If you want to upload something from Germany, you have to verify your account. However, a video in which you show yourself without a face and say „XVideos“ is sufficient. A phone number or other details are not required.

The porn paragraph in the planned EU law provides for even more requirements. In the future, porn platforms are supposed to use human moderators who have been trained to recognize sexualized violence. Survivors who find their recordings on porn sites should be able to complain more easily. If survivors report such content, the platform should block the images or videos without delay, the draft states.

All of this could be new for XVideos. At the very least, our research shows how easy it is to find questionable footage there. Footage that raises significant doubts about whether it was consensual. Nine minutes, 53 seconds, orgasm – to maintain this business model, the platform will have to visibly change in the future.

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