Free Speech vs. Anonymity Gone Wild: Women Suing Joe Francis Fight To Remain Anonymous

from the anonymously-flashing dept

A lawsuit over the legality of a “Girls Gone Wild” video has turned into something of a free speech battle. Apparently four women who appeared in one of the famous videos as teenagers, are suing Joe Francis, the guy behind the whole GGW franchise. The women (all in their 20s now) want to remain anonymous in their lawsuit, saying that they were humiliated enough when the footage was released. The judge rejected the request to remain anonymous, and the women are now appealing. Various news organizations are taking the other side of the case, arguing that journalists should be allowed to report on names of plaintiffs for newsworthy stories. While I’m definitely a big supporter in protecting anonymous speech, I’m not sure that it makes sense here. The women were not anonymous. They appeared in public and did what the videos show them doing, whether or not they’re happy about it now. On top of that, while protecting anonymous speech is a valid First Amendment issue, so is the right of journalists to publish relevant factual information on a news story. I’d be surprised if the appeals court rejects the district court’s decision denying them the ability to file this case anonymously.

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Comments on “Free Speech vs. Anonymity Gone Wild: Women Suing Joe Francis Fight To Remain Anonymous”

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Christopher (profile) says:

Re: age

Ah, but this guy ASKS whether people are of age and… if you are drinking at all, it’s pretty per-forma to assume the girls are ‘of age’.

Really, I don’t care here. I think that ‘of age’ bullshit is a remnant of religious morality, and needs to disappear.

Now, if these girls were FORCED into this, then they would get more of my sympathy, rather than the none they are getting right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have you really thought this one through?

Publishing a video of someone like the “Girls Gone Wild” videos is illegal unless the model has signed a modeling release form (which is invalid if it can be shown that she didn’t understand what she was signing, e.g. because she was very drunk).

Assuming she did sign in fact sign the forms, the legal bar is set pretty high for showing that she could not have been reasonably assumed to understand what she was signing, so she may well have a tough time at trial. Let’s assume though, for the same of argument, that there was no model release at all (or clearly forged or something).

Then the hypothetical video company has seriously broken the law and at trial would be found liable, but under the regime you and this court seem to want, the model has to choose between seeing justice done but making it a matter of public record (easily available on the internet, complete with the video no doubt) tied to her name that she appeared in the video (thus greatly increasing the harm done) or remaining anonymous (so that only those that happened to watch the video might be able to guess that she’s the girl in it) but letting the video company get away with it. I see no reason that justice shouldn’t be served without inflicting additional harm on the victim.

Of course, this must to some extent be balanced with the public’s right to know about the case, and if she were otherwise a public figure, perhaps the public’s right to know ought to win out. If not though, it seems that the benefit to the public of knowing her identity is negligible compared to the harm done by revealing it.

It seems to me from your “they appeared in public and did what the videos show them doing, whether or not they’re happy about it now” comment that you are letting your skepticism about the merits of the case taint your judgment on the anonymity issue. As a matter of law, where would you draw the line between a case like this (again, at this point the court should be assuming that the woman’s claims about the facts are true) and, say, “hidden camera” voyeurism victims (or would you deny them anonymity too)?

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Have you really thought this one through?

Actually, no. The defendant is entitled to be presumed innocent by the court until a verdict is reached, no matter how much it sucks for the accuser(s). That means presuming any claim made by the plaintiff/prosecutor is false unless given good reason to think otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Have you really thought this one through?

You’re thinking of the actual trial where the jury decides whether the the plaintiff’s claims are true or not.

Before that is the part where the judge decides, assuming the plaintiff’s claims are true, whether a law has actually been violated or whether the case should just be dismissed, along with other questions like this anonymity issue. (If the judge assumed everything every plaintiff was false, every lawsuit would be dismissed before it got to trial.)

The defendant has certainly been “presumed innocent” in the sense that he hasn’t been forced to pay any damages or punished in any way, and won’t be until a jury finds that he did something that a judge has said violates the law.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Have you really thought this one through?

Actually, most of the GGW parties on are private property and are very clearly GGW areas. They have signs and all kinds of crap up. Judges have ruled that you can’t go to this private party, drink, show your boobs, and then stop the presses (so to speak) later. And I’m good with that, personally.

I feel sorry for their embarrassment, but you can’t say no AFTER the fact.

Beta (profile) says:

Naked is the best disguise.

The women were not anonymous. They appeared in public and did what the videos show them doing…

A false dichotomy. From my reading of the article it looks as if they did not identify themselves at the time, but acquaintances later recognized them in the video and “outed” them at school. Decades ago a girl could flash a crowd at spring break (or whatever) and be reasonably confident that no one would ever know who she was, or at least that it wouldn’t become common knowledge (or common viewing!) in her home town. Now she must be more circumspect, which is everyone’s loss.

I have mixed feelings about whether people should be allowed to bring suit anonymously, but the very fact that it is possible in this case means that we have not entirely lost the anonymity we used to take for granted.

GSV Eat Me Reality (profile) says:

Oh, please

@ Anonymous Coward post:

Anybody who acts out in public has no reasonable expectation of privacy under the law. If you don’t like that, then don’t get drunk and do stupid things in public.

Whether or not their identities should be made available to the media in the court case is entirely different matter which has little or nothing to bear on their public display of idiocy. “Modeling release forms” don’t bear on this case as it was not apparently a formal video, but something done in a public arena.

The “hidden camera voyeurism” issue doesn’t apply here, either – it applies to places where the victims have a reasonable right to privacy, as in restrooms and more private settings.

I haven’t seen the video (nor do I have any intention of watching it, I grew up decades ago), nor am I associated with the porn industry in any way, but I do know that anything I do in a bar or other legally public setting is something I can claim a right to privacy for. That’s just plain ridiculous.


Jon Noowtun says:

Re: Oh, please

Anybody who acts out in public has no reasonable expectation of privacy under the law. If you don’t like that, then don’t get drunk and do stupid things in public.

WRONG!!!!! It’s illegal to take photos of anyone or anything without a written consent form!!!!! When you’re out in public, you’re surround by your own personal privacy shield and nobody is ever allowed to violate that without your permission!!!!!

Oh, and Gargle is EVIL!!!!!

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, please

Actually, no, it isn’t. It is illegal to take the photos and use them for PROFIT PURPOSES without a written consent form.

Otherwise, beach photographers would have to get every single person to sign a release before putting their pictures up in their photography shops…. that is not how it works.

If you are out in public, you have NO right to privacy, period and done with.

Now, if someone is violating your PROPERTY RIGHTS as the FBI wishes to by putting something on your car? That is another story and under another facet of law to be challenged.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, please

Ah, you’re right–some quick googling reveals that, at least in Florida, no model release is required. On the other hand, according to the article the girls in question were supposedly minors, which probably makes the charges much worse.

All of these issues should be basically relevant though: for the anonymity issue, the only balancing should be between the public’s interest in knowing about the case and the plaintiff’s privacy/emotional distress/etc., and the public interest in the plaintiff’s name still seems pretty negligible.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, please

No, it doesn’t make the ‘charges much worse’ in the slightest. The fact is that the whole ‘minor’ thing is a straw man. Frankly, on the beach this summer, I saw a female who I could have SWORN was 21…. she was 12!

She was a goddamned BODY DOUBLE for a female who was in Playboy.

It’s time to realize that this whole ‘minor’ thing is meant to treat children as ‘lesser’ and ‘less worthy’ of rights than adults are. That is not the case in the slightest, children are absolutely EQUAL to adults except in terms of physical power.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh, please

That is not the case in the slightest, children are absolutely EQUAL to adults except in terms of physical power.

You don’t have children, do you? I love kids, but they are absolutely not equal to adults in many ways other than physical power. Judgment, emotional maturity, ability to reason through consequences, etc. It is completely appropriate and necessary for the law to treat children differently from adults.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Oh, please

“You don’t have children, do you? I love kids, but they are absolutely not equal to adults in many ways other than physical power. Judgment, emotional maturity, ability to reason through consequences, etc. It is completely appropriate and necessary for the law to treat children differently from adults.”

That same argument has been made in the past to deny civil rights to other groups including women and minorities.

Now, I’m not saying that a 3-year old should be able to scribble their name on a document in crayon and be liable for it – but be aware that ’18-years and you’re an adult’ is completely arbitrary. I’ve known 16-year olds more mature than college graduates – and I bet you could find others pretty easily if you looked.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Oh, please

Of course it’s arbitrary, it has to be. The law can’t say “you can sign a contract when you’re mature enough to handle it”, that would be a disaster. We have to pick an age when we think people are generally able to handle such responsibilities. In the US, we’ve decided on 18, and that seems fairly reasonable to me.

GSV Eat Me Reality (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, please

With all due respect, I grew up in the 70s. I did a lot of stupid things back then, in public; and never had the thought that I’d actually sue anyone over my own behaviour.Dealt with the negative consequences myself; and got over them.

It’s called taking responsibility for one’s own actions; which seems to be a dying “ideology” in this country.

Shit like this just makes more work for more of the children being programmed by lawyer degrees.


out_of_the_blue says:

Parents granted them autonomy.

While I agree with AC @ 2: assuming these young women were hundreds of miles from parents, with parents permission (but irrelevant given other factors such as possessing credit cards and other means of autonomy), unsupervised, just trusted to not drink or take drugs, then they were de facto adults. 18 is just an arbitrary number. So, no anonymity.

>>> 3rd attempt! I get a blank “done” page.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Parents granted them autonomy.

Agreed. Personally, I wish that we would treat children more as adults today (outside of things such as killing someone else, which most children and even teenagers don’t understand totally) and make them take responsibility for their own actions and INactions.

That means getting rid of ‘statutory rape’, ‘child sexual abuse’, etc. and putting VERY short SoL’s on forcible rape.

Because basically, after as little as 1 month… it’s a ‘he said, she said’ and MANY teenagers and children go whining to the cops about sexual relationships they were in, to penalize someone else for ending the relationship in question.

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

Anonymity v. Anonymity

The anonymity at issue here is a little different from the anonymity at issue in cases where suit is brought against an anonymous speaker. There, nobody knows the name of the anonymous party. In this situation, though, the parties and the court know the names of the anonymous parties, but the names are sealed. There is a small category of cases where plaintiffs are allowed to proceed without being identified in the public records of the case because the suit relates to something very embarrassing.

The best known categories of such cases are the abortion rights cases, where it could be publicly humiliating for the plaintiff to admit that she is seeking an abortion (for example, Roe v. Wade) and cases involving minors.

Earlier this year, the case Doe v. Reed was a constitutional challenge to the disclosure of the names of petition signers; the case involved the right to stay anonymous and hence it would have surrendered that right to require the signers to be identified by the very act of suing. Another recent example of such a case was when two students who had been abused on AutoAdmit sued to identify the anonymous speakers who had publicly humiliated them. The trial judge allowed the plaintiffs to remain anonymous but ordered the anonymous defendants identified. By contrast, in one of the earlier cases involving a subpoena to identify anonymous defendants, the Virginia Supreme Court held that an Indiana company could not pursue a defamation claim (and a subpoena to identify the anonymous defendant) against anonymous speakers without revealing its own name.

These cases all turn on how strong the interest in anonymity is given the nature of the litigation, considered against the general presumption that judicial records should be open to public inspection.

Here the plaintiffs are now adults but were minors at the time of the events alleged in the lawsuit. That they are now adults does not disqualify them — the cases brought by persons who are now adults, alleging abuse by their priests when they were minors, have usually proceeded with the plaintiffs identified publicly only as Doe.

Pixelation says:


It appears that he may have coerced at least one of the girls.
FTFA… “Francis has pleaded guilty to criminal charges of not having kept proper records involving one of the plaintiffs, and he was convicted in state court in Florida of coercing another one of the plaintiffs into prostitution as a minor for paying her $50 to appear on camera”

AJB says:

Stupid is...

To co-opt and potentially infringe on Forrest Gump, Stupid is as Stupid Does. Being young, drunk and stupid is not against the law. Neither is capturing it on video and selling photos of public events. These are the repercussions your parents warned you about. I’m SURE the parents were mighty proud of their daughter’s behavior. Why any parent would foot the bill for this yearly Bacchanal masquerading as Spring Break is beyond me. I kept my kids at home, despite pleading, begging, threats and tears. They’re YOUR kids. Be parents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What a stupid argument. We’re not in those countries, and old women are responsible for their actions. Children can’t be, and it does them no favors to spare them this “discrimination.” Other countries may pick other ages to draw the line. We’ve picked this age. You can argue that the line should be different, but you’d still have a line, and we would still “discriminate” with respect to people below it.

Since these women were minors those videos are and should be illegal.

Erin B. (user link) says:

Here’s the thing that nobody has brought up, which I find rather relevant: oftentimes these cases turn into character judgments rather than legal judgments.

Basically, what’s been said in these comments is reiterated in an even bitchier tone. “Well, if you weren’t such a drunk slut then you wouldn’t have this problem!” Debatable. That’s not the point, though. The point is that the participants were under the legal age of consent for a pornographic product. Period. End of discussion.

The point is that they’re suing Joe Francis because they feel they were taken advantage of when they were a) drunk and b) too young to understand the full weight of their actions. Given that Francis and his organization have a long history of falsifying release forms, badgering women into performing acts they’re uncomfortable with, and targeting women too drunk to refuse, I’d say they have a solid case.

Now, whether they actually deserve damages or not is up to a jury to decide. However, it seems cruel to force these women to endure further humiliation. The plain publication of their full and legal names isn’t humiliation in and of itself, though I’m sure that’d be a truly awesome thing to have to worry about an employer running across in the course of a routine Google query. However: once news organizations have access to their full names, it becomes quite simple to start investigating their respective histories. And then anyone paying attention to the case stops by at each report of an alleged sexual act in the plaintiffs’ histories and the chorus of “slut slut slut slut slut!” begins anew. That is something they deserve to not have to deal with again.

Any case dealing with the difficult and complicated nature of consent eventually boils down to: Well, how slutty are you generally? If you are more than x degree of slut, then you deserve whatever happens to you. Please note that x is a shifting target.

The plaintiffs are suing for damages stemming from an incident that occurred when they were minors. Given this and that the nature of the damages has to do with the humiliation associated with the prudish American attitude to public acknowledgements of sexuality, it seems silly and pointless to publish their names.

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