Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Involuntary porn" site tests the boundaries of legal extortion

Craig Brittain
Original Article

Since when did extortion become "legal?" The new site owner should check out Offendex.com as well.

11/13/2012

By Timothy B. Lee

Site posts leaked nude photos without consent, charges $250 to take them down.

In the era of Polaroid cameras, you didn't have to worry too much about a racy snapshot you took in the privacy of your bedroom becoming available to the general public. But thanks to the rise of digital cameras and the Internet, that's now a real risk. Hackers, disgruntled exes, and other vindictive individuals who gain access to your compromising digital snapshots can share them with the world with a single click.

Recently, a number of websites have sprung up to cash in on the public humiliation of others. One of the first such sites was [site removed], which solicited nude pictures of ordinary Americans submitted by third parties. To maximize the humiliation, the photos were posted along with identifying details such as name and home town. The site's owner, Hunter Moore, reportedly raked in thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue, and he made the rounds on television talk shows defending his site.

Moore finally shuttered the site earlier this year, but others have jumped in to fill the sordid niche he pioneered. One such site is the creatively named [site removed]. Like the original, it features naked pictures of ordinary Americans, generally submitted without the subjects' consent, as well as personal information such as their names, hometowns, phone numbers, and screenshots of their Facebook pages.

Sleazy, yes—but is it extortion?

If you think [site removed] couldn't be any sleazier, then [site removed]'s seems determined to prove you wrong. A link on [site removed] reading "Get Me Off This Site!" leads to the website of "[site removed]," an "independent third party team" that, for a modest fee of $250, will "issue a successful content removal request on your behalf." It brags of 90 successful removals from [site removed].

It seems pretty obvious that "[site removed]" isn't actually independent of [site removed]. Indeed, copyright and First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza has found circumstantial evidence that [site removed] and [site removed] are, in fact, both owned by a man named Craig Brittain.

Randazza has made taking down [site removed] a personal cause. "I want to hurt [site removed]. I want to hurt them bad," Randazza wrote in a recent blog post. "If anyone out there has been scammed by these crooks, contact me," Randazza wrote. "I will represent you pro bono."

Is it even illegal to run a site like [site removed]? "Involuntary porn" sites are so new that the courts haven't really dealt with them before.

In an interview earlier this month, Randazza told us that his legal strategy would depend on the client, but that he would likely sue Brittain for copyright infringement. Depending on where the client lived, he said there were also likely to be private torts available under state law.

We asked Paul Alan Levy, a free speech lawyer at Public Citizen, whether a victim of [site removed] would have a case against the site. He drew a parallel to other cases that have dealt with allegedly extortionate websites.



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