Mass-distributed pornography is as old as the printing press. Almost as soon as photography was invented, it was being used to produce pornographic images. Indeed some claim that pornography has been a driving force in the development of technologies from the printing press, through photography (still and motion) to video, satellite TV, DVD, and the Internet. Calls to regulate or prohibit these technologies have often cited pornography as a concern.
Cultural historians have suggested that every art medium and publishing medium first was used for pornography: handwriting, painting, sculpture, the printing press, printed sheet music, motion pictures, videotapes, DVDs and the Internet. This may not be true throughout history, but it does seem to be true for recent history. The videotape and DVD media might have flourished without porn, but they have certainly flourished very well with it: the porn industry produces more titles per year than Hollywood; it even compares to Bollywood. Curiously, porn plays in few theaters, and in many countries it is difficult to rent porn videos, because movie rental stores such as Blockbuster and other large video-rental firms avoid porn; most distribution is by sale.
Photo manipulation and computer-generated images
Digital manipulation requires the use of source photographs, but some pornography is produced without human actors at all. The idea of completely computer-generated pornography was conceived very early as one of the most obvious areas of application for computer graphics and 3D rendering.
The creation of highly realistic computer-generated images creates new ethical dilemmas. If illusionistic images of torture or rape become widely distributed, law enforcement faces additional difficulties prosecuting authentic images of criminal acts, due to the possibility that they are synthetic. The existence of faked pornographic photos of celebrities shows the possibility of using fake images to blackmail or humiliate any individual who has been photographed or filmed, although as such cases become more common, this effect will likely diminish. Finally, the generation of entirely synthetic images, which do not record actual events, challenges some of the conventional criticism of pornography. It also challenges the traditional notion of evidence, where at present, in the United States it is possible to prosecute producers of child pornography without violating the First Amendment, because the film is evidence that an adult has had sex with a child. However, it may be possible to film things that were imagined but never done: the film would not be evidence of a crime. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a crime to make such a film.
Until the late 1990s, digitally manipulated pornography could not be produced cost-effectively. In the early 2000s, it became a growing segment, as the modelling and animation software matured and the rendering capabilities of computers improved. As of 2004, computer-generated pornography depicting situations involving children and sex with fictional characters, such as Lara Croft, is already produced on a limited scale. The October 2004 issue of Playboy featured topless pictures of the title character from the BloodRayne video game.
Mainstream movies containing CGI and other realistic special effects show that if a director can imagine something in sufficient detail, combined with sufficient resources, it can be put on a screen. Pasolini created some gruesome images in Salo, without using computers, but some of them are not really seen by the viewer. De Sade described even more gruesome images in 120 Days of Sodom, the book on which Salo is based: perhaps a truly fiendish director with a roomful of up-to-date computers—costing less than $1 million total—could realize de Sade’s worst visions without actually torturing a person to death in front of a camera. The recent Lord of the Rings films by director Peter Jackson show what is technically possible in filmmaking; this level of technology has yet to be applied to pornography. Clearly, more can be done than already has been done.
Main article: Internet pornography
Some Internet entrepreneurs operate pornographic Internet sites. As well as conventional photographic or video pornography, some sites offer an “interactive” video game-like entertainment. Due to the international character of the Internet, it provides an easy means whereby consumers residing in countries where pornography is either taboo or entirely illegal can easily acquire such material from sources in another country where it is legal or remains unprosecuted.
The low cost of copying and delivering digital data boosted the formation of private circles of people swapping pornography. With the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing applications such as Kazaa, pornography swapping has reached new heights. Prior to this, the Usenet news service was a popular place for pornography swapping. Free pornography became available en masse from other users and is no longer restricted to private groups. Large amounts of free pornography on the Internet are also distributed for marketing purposes to encourage subscriptions to paid content.
Since the late 1990s, “porn from the masses for the masses”[attribution needed] seems to have become another new trend. Inexpensive digital cameras, increasingly powerful and user-friendly software, and easy access to pornographic source material have made it possible for individuals to produce and share home-made or home-altered porn for next to no cost. Such home-made pornographers are able to cater more closely to the desires of the viewers, sometimes actually playing out scenarios suggested by a particular viewer for fulfillment of their fantasy.
Despite adult filters and settings on most Internet search engines, porn sites are easily found on the Internet with Adult industry webmasters being the first and most active to optimize their pages for search engine queries. As a result, many porn-related search returns are overwhelming and often somewhat irrelevant. This has led to development of porn-specific search engines, like Booble, which started as a parody of porn on the web and the business of porn for search engine giants like Google, which quickly sought to shut the parody down.