Kanye West.
Image: AP Photo

Last week, Kanye West announced that his Yeezy clothing line will be selling $75 sweatshirts featuring artistic renderings of several porn performers. The sweatshirts are part of West’s surprise turn as creative director of Thursday’s Pornhub Awards—an Oscars-like event for the adult industry, thrown by one of the tube sites that is gobbling up said industry—and will depict five of the evening’s winners. The announcement was met with excitement by many of the featured performers, most of whom happily retweeted links to the product in question.

But, in the days that followed, some industry insiders began raising questions about royalties for the performers gracing the sweatshirts. Porn performer and writer Siouxsie Q tweeted to Lena Paul, one of the featured performers, “what kind of compensation are you getting from these?” In response, Paul wrote, “Great question.” Porn director Jacky St. James‏ replied, simply,“More exploitation.”

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Kendra Sunderland, Riley Reid, Mia Malkova, Abella Danger, and Paul are rendered in images that recall a trippy, George Condo-esque modernist artwork (or a grade school finger-painting, depending on one’s perspective) alongside the categories in which they won: Nicest Tits, Most Popular Female Performer, Hottest Female Ass, Splash Zone Top Squirting Performer, and Top Big Tits Performer. The sweatshirts, which bear the Pornhub logo, are already available for pre-order and will ship in a few weeks—but, clearly, at least one of the featured performers was left with uncertainty around the possibility of compensation.

Neither West’s nor Pornhub’s publicist responded to a request for comment by press time. Paul referred Jezebel to her lawyer, who declined to comment. None of the other featured performers responded. This post will be updated if they do.

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In the meantime, some industry members are raising questions about not just compensation but also the legality of using these performers’ images and trademarked names without obtaining explicit permission. In response to a Twitter thread involving Paul, performer Keiran Lee wrote, “If it’s pic from a scene, then pretty sure you give rights to use all images when you sign model release.” Another way to put this is that if the sweatshirts feature imagery inspired by a scene produced by a MindGeek—the monopolistic, tube-driven behemoth that owns Pornhub, as well as popular porn production companies like Brazzers and Digital Playground—then it might be legally defensible.

But as Siouxsie Q, who sits on the board of the non-profit Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, put it to Jezebel, “Regardless of whether or not what he did is legal, it is definitely not cool.” She said, “The unflattering depictions felt mean spirited, and the $75 price point felt exploitative. Hopefully someone from the sex worker community will benefit from those sales, and not just the millionaire who crashed our party.” This is, perhaps, the flip-side of the marginalized and stigmatized adult industry getting bathed in the light of a mega celeb like Kanye. As performer Paige Owens tweeted, “What’s the point of celebs ‘helping’ porn be more mainstream if all they really do is exploit the performers and use the PornHub name to seem cool.”

But Sunderland, one of the featured performers, had a different take. “Point is all of us who have the shirt are happy and grateful. It’s everyone else trying to talk shit and make it a negative thing,” she tweeted. “It’s our faces and our names and if we’re cool with it then quite frankly I don’t think it’s anyone’s business.”