Texas Judge Sides With Pornhub In Last Minute Ruling Against Age Verification Law

The law would require adult sites to verify users’ ages and display a “Texas Health and Human Services Warning” on their websites in 14-point font or larger font.
The Texas and American flags, via Unsplash
Photo by Samuel Bauman / Unsplash

A Texas judge has deemed that an age verification for porn sites law that was set to go into place on Friday will not go into effect yet, after Pornhub and a group of adult industry sites and advocates sued the state.

District Judge David Alan Ezra granted a preliminary injunction against Texas HB1181 on Thursday. Enforcement of the law was set to begin on September 1, but it’s been forestalled and won’t go into effect yet.

The law would require adult sites to verify users’ ages with digital IDs or other official proof of age, or risk a $3 million per year fine. In addition to age verification, the law would require porn sites to display a “Texas Health and Human Services Warning” on their websites in 14-point font or larger font.

Earlier this month, Pornhub, along with the Free Speech Coalition and other adult industry advocates, sued Texas to block the law, claiming that the law violates both the Constitution of the United States and the federal Communications Decency Act.

The judge wrote in his decision that Pornhub and its co-plaintiffs were “likely to suffer irreparable harm” if an injunction wasn’t granted. “A party cannot speak freely when they must first verify the age of each audience member, and this has a particular chilling effect when the identity of audience members is potentially stored by third parties or the government,” the judge wrote.

“This is a huge and important victory against the rising tide of censorship online,” Alison Boden, Executive Director of Free Speech Coalition, said in a statement. “From the beginning, we have argued that the Texas law, and those like it, are both dangerous and unconstitutional. We’re pleased that the Court agreed with our view that HB1181’s true purpose is not to protect young people, but to prevent Texans from enjoying First Amendment protected expression. The state’s defense of the law was not based in science or technology, but ideology and politics.”

Texas governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1181 into law in June.

In January, Louisiana enacted an age verification law that has become a blueprint for multiple other states across the country to restrict access to adult sites. Louisiana’s law states:

“Any commercial entity that knowingly and intentionally publishes or distributes material harmful to minors on the internet from a website that contains a substantial portion of such material shall be held liable if the entity fails to perform reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access the material.”

Since then, six states have passed copycat age verification laws. In several of those states, Pornhub blocked anyone located there from visiting the site; in Utah and Virginia, visitors with IP addresses in those states see a message from adult performer Cherie Deville explaining the laws and asking them to to contact their elected officials.  

In Utah, accessing a porn site now involves a lengthy process that involves facial analysis to determine users’ ages.

These laws are passed under the guise of protecting children from seeing porn online, but sex work and free speech rights’ activists argue that they’re actually anti-porn advocacy in disguise. This judge seemed to see through the “protect children” line as well.

“In short, if the interest is in protecting children, then it may arguably be substantial, but it is advanced indirectly,” Judge Ezra wrote. “If the interest is in changing adults’ attitudes on porn and sexuality, then the state cannot claim a valid, substantial interest.”