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January 11th, 2006 Ian Demsky | News Stories
 

Suicide Defense

How a punk-porn empire is trying to protect its piece of the pie.

     
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IMAGE: THOMAS COBB
It's not just tattoos, titties and discussion threads—this is business.

The best-known name in alternaporn, www.SuicideGirls.com, filed two federal lawsuits recently that take aim at competitors and former models.

The unfair-competition and economic-interference lawsuits are trying to stop former models from baring all in other goth, punk and emo venues or revealing information about the company on the Internet.

In two separate legal actions filed in September and October and seeking unspecified damages, SG is going after the owners and operators of the website GodsGirls.com (which is still under construction but already has a thriving presence on several online communities) for allegedly bogarting its trademarked style and trying to cherry-pick its stable of models. And it's suing www.gloomdolls.com for posting damaging, behind-the-scenes confessions of an ex-model that the company says breach a confidentiality agreement the model signed. The lawsuits were filed in Portland because the company, founded in Portland in 2001 and now headquartered in Los Angeles, maintains an Oregon business license.

The suits, filed by SuicideGirls.com's parent, SG Services Inc., follow the defection or booting of about 30 popular models last fall, some of whom launched blogospheric critiques of SuicideGirls' female-friendly image and attacked male co-founder Sean Suhl as a misogynist.

SuicideGirls.com claims to be more than just a place where wankers can get their fill of nearly 900 pin-up girls adorned with piercings, unnatural dye jobs and inked arabesques. The site's 1 million weekly visitors and paying members can also interact with each other and the models through blogs and discussion boards, as well as buy merchandise bearing an iconic bust and the letters "SG." Only about 20 percent of the site's traffic involves ogling the racy pictures, co-founder Selena Mooney told the court in a brief filed Dec. 27, 2005.

The site's popularity and mainstream recognition, however, have eroded some of that outsider cachet. "SuicideGirls is the Wal-Mart of alt-porn," a former model said in an October New York Press article.

"I think the Suicide Girls fail to understand that the country we live in is called America," GodsGirls founder Annaliese Nielsen told WW. "They can't just file lawsuits to take opportunities away from any kind of competition."

In its suit, SG said the GodsGirls site had infringed upon its look by using a lot of pink. "SG uses pink to identify its brand in the same way Tiffany's uses canary blue on boxes," Mooney says in court filings. When a model is chosen, she receives her very own pair of pink SG panties.

"I didn't know you could own a whole color," Nielsen says. "They're strong-arming everybody."

"SuicideGirls has literally tens of dozens of other competitors that have sprung up since we have launched," Missy Suicide (Mooney's SG moniker) told WW in an email. "[W]e have never gone after any of them. [GodsGirls.com is part of] a hardcore porn conglomerate that has maliciously set out to destroy my business.... [W]e have no choice but to react and defend our rights under the law." She also wrote that WW "would prefer to print the sensationalist rumors propagated by the internet haters that plague every successful business in the digital age rather than portray the reality of the situation." But Missy refused to discuss specifics of SG's grievances.

About a dozen of the roughly 60 GodsGirls models have prior SG connections, says Nielsen, who has backing from Offworld Media Group Inc., which runs such websites as olderwomen.com, twinks.com and fullbush.com. One user on a Livejournal group titled "Tales from the Dark Site" joked, "Where do Suicide Girls go when they die? God's Girls." Nielsen reportedly told an SG attorney in September that it made sense to tap into the built-in fan base of the models who "had a following."

SG also appears to be arguing that a standard release the models signed gave them exclusive rights to all their images, not just ones appearing on SG's site.

The second suit was filed against New Mexico-based Gloomdolls (which was down for "legal maintenance" when WW tried to check out the gloom this week) after the site posted confessions of an ex-model that SG claims violated a confidentiality agreement she signed and encouraged visitors to default on their SG membership payments. SG was successful in having the model's diatribes removed from other websites.

Attorney Scott Oliver, father of Gloomdolls owner Erin Oliver, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it might jeopardize ongoing settlement negotiations.

 
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