In a daily search of headlines, we came across the topic of a ‘revenge porn’ website founder being ordered to pay $250,000 in damages for a defamation claim. [Click here for the original article.] Sparking our interest, we looked more into the case, and, ultimately the topic itself. Revenge porn, it turns out, is the posting of nude pictures of an ex in revenge for he or she finding someone else. These websites allow anyone to go on, post a picture, tag someone, reveal personal information about said person, and then make comments. Disgusting juvenility and overall creepiness aside, it shocked us that this area has been largely ignored by the legal community, law enforcement included.
A knee-jerk reaction is that this should be stopped and considered a criminal act. However, if the person is over 18 and consented to the picture being taken, technically there is likely no crime – and the picture is likely considered the ‘property’ of the taker (i.e. the potentially psychotic ex). Fortunately, these sites have caught the attention of the Florida legislature, and members are working to pass a bill that will make the tagging of a nude photo with personally identifiable information without written consent a crime. [Click here to check out what’s in the works.]
While that’s a great first step, our thoughts turned to potential civil lawsuits. As mentioned early, a revenge porn website founder was recently hit with a $250,000 judgment in a defamation suit. However, that suit was brought by the founder of an anti-bullying website whose target was set upon the revenge porn industry. The revenge porn website founder went on a Twitter rant to his 150,000 followers to call the other a pedophile, etc., etc. This leaves open the possibility of defamation suits from the ladies and gentlemen that find themselves baring all to the world on these sites… sometimes with colorful commentary alongside. While defamation law is somewhat archaic, as it catches up with modern times, these situations will have to find a place. As mentioned in an earlier post, most of the time, the operators of websites that allow posts about people or businesses would be basically immune. However, some courts have allowed that immunity to be broken if the operators were actively seeking defamatory posts.
The operators and supporters of these websites may argue First Amendment protection… and maybe they will prevail on that argument. However, given the nature of the “speech” sought to be protected here, we foresee new laws and new lawsuits aimed directly at these sites. While the pictures alone can be devastating, the commentary, in our opinion, is where the root of the legal problem lies. As soon as the pathetic ex captions his newly posted pic with “whore,” for example, he may have just placed himself squarely in a potential defamation suit. And, given the pervasive use of the internet for schools and businesses in conducting a background check on potential candidates – the damages could be huge.
So, what to do? Well, if you are the pathetic ex, we’d advise throwing out your creepy memorabilia and moving on. Skip the revenge porn site and move on to a dating site… or, better yet, go outside and meet someone in the real world. If you Google yourself and see a picture of you in the buff online, contact an attorney. You may just have a case. And, even if you don’t, you may have a quick route to getting that picture taken offline.