Lawyer For Victims Of Nude Celebrity Hacks Threatens Google With $100 Million Lawsuit

from the on-what-basis dept

So, by now you've heard about the various hacked and leaked photos of various celebrities, often in varying states of undress. You knew that legal action was going to follow, but... did anyone actually expect Google would be the initial target? Lawyer to the stars Marty Singer has sent a very angry, but legally shaky letter to Google, claiming the company is facing a $100 million (or more) lawsuit in failing to remove the photos. There are some oddities here. First, Singer fails to name anyone he's actually representing, just generally referring to representing "over a dozen" of the victims. From there, Singer sort of implies copyright violations, but doesn't fully go there, perhaps because it's likely that the women in question don't hold the copyright on many of the photos. In at least one case -- involving photos of Kate Upton -- it's been widely reported that Google only removed about half of the links sent in a DMCA notice from Upton's boyfriend, baseball star Justin Verlander, leading to quite reasonable speculation that Google is properly complying with the DMCA in only taking down photos where it's clear there's a legitimate copyright claim.

Singer's threat letter is all over the place, partially arguing copyright infringement, partially arguing failure to follow the DMCA safe harbors and partially arguing straight up morality concerning blocking links to the images or videos containing the images. Let's be clear: it's quite reasonable for those who were victims here to be upset and seek to do something about it, but it's bizarre to pin the blame on Google, which is merely the search engine that is helping to index what other people have done. Furthermore, while it may seem appealing to ask Google to make a pure moral judgment on whether or not it's "right" for these photos to be accessible, it has no legal obligation to do so, outside of the copyright question -- and Google has a pretty good history of showing that its copyright lawyers are very quick at taking down content that they truly deem infringing.

Frankly, this threat seems like a lot more bluster than legal certainty. It wouldn't surprise me to see a lawsuit eventually result -- Singer likes being in the limelight -- but it's difficult to see on what legitimate legal basis a lawsuit would be filed. It's possible that Google may have missed a legitimate copyright-covered image from a takedown, but given its rather sophisticated handling of DMCA takedown notices, it seems unlikely that Google made many mistakes on this one. This just seems like a "Steve Dallas lawsuit" in which you go through all the options of who you can sue, and then just go after the big company because it's the one that has the money.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 9:02am

    While I do agree with said victims that they should be respected I do think that the best way to keep your stuff secure is to keep it offline and at home. I recently had a stolen phone that had a few of such pics of me and my girl that I failed to remove and the device wasn't codified yet. We reached the conclusion that if it ends up online, well, shit happens. The new phone is properly codified and the pics are promptly removed asap and never stored online. (You see, despite all the moralism it's insanely common for people to take naughty pics.)

    In any case, if the culprits are found they should be tried and punished but it's useless and dangerous to try to get the pics out of the Internet. Let them be, let some dudes fap happily and move on. Streisand has a thing or two to say about trying to delete anything by force....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 9:46am

      Re:

      Thank you for mentioning it, I was going to do the same.

      It's odd that someone is throwing down the morality card in a case about pornographic pictures.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Howard (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 12:55am

      Re:

      I'm not surprised that said celebrities go after the hacker guy, although he damaged only their self-respect so far (no credit card abuse etc)-

      What I'm surprised at is that not one said celebrities are mad and suing apple for knowingly leaving such a gaping security hole in their system.

      But to sue a search engine.. that's baffling. Ridiculous. Shows plainly the clueless witch-hunt this leak is becoming, while the real culprits escape scrutiny.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tim Griffiths (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 3:09am

      Re:

      I do agree with you but we need to be careful in how we approach this discussion because while not being prudent in this regard can be a mistake it does not put you at fault for someone else's crime.

      Making people aware about automated cloud backups and the risks of storing any private or privileged information there (or anywhere for that matter) and how best to protect it is of course a good thing. But we need to be careful to avoid legitimizing the victim blaming that people are using to justify their own interests in these kind of leaks.

      It's always a tricky line to walk because it's all too often ends up that talk of a personal responsibility gets conflated with the idea of a public culpability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 3:49am

        Re: Re:

        But we need to be careful to avoid legitimizing the victim blaming that people are using to justify their own interests in these kind of leaks.

        Fully agree with you. I'm all for the leakers being severely punished and I agree with the comment above that the ones that left the security hole should also answer for their errors. The victims are still victims. It does not matter if you like to keep porn albums of yourself, you have the right to do it and the right to keep them private. The leak is absolutely shameful.

        But once it's in the wild it can be very damaging to try to erase it to the point of having the exact opposite effect (ie: being further disseminated). Even though I sympathize with the victims be them celebrities or not I'm completely against their reaction(suing Google and asking for police state measures).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Tim Griffiths (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 8:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I thought so I just wanted to bring up the point since I think it's one that's sadly still worth making at the moment.

          And I do agree with you that suing Google is rediclous reaction and that's why I honestly think that this is one lawyer looking to make a name for themselves by either overreaching on behalf of maybe one or two actual clients or actively looking to take advantage of a few or a lot of the people involved.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:03am

    Supposedly a vulnerability in iCloud is the reason for the hack in the first place yet Google is the first to be sued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:14am

      Re:

      Everyone is infatuated with Apple and they can do no wrong.
      Google is everyone's favorite punching bag for no reason.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:30am

        Re: Re:

        Google's image in the eyes of the public has taken a 180

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JMT (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 4:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          This "public" you speak of is actually a much, much smaller group than the actual public. Most people do not hate Google, even if they've become more wary of them.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re:

        "Everyone is infatuated with Apple"

        Not everyone. Apple has been a nasty and brutal company since the mid '80s. The only thing that keeps them from as bad as the likes of Microsoft is that they have a smaller market share.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      WysiWyg (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:26am

      Re:

      Perhaps they are actually preparing a PROPER lawsuit against Apple, and this is just random blustering because they didn't control their lawyer properly?

      Then again; do we really know that he IS representing anyone, and not just making stuff up?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:03am

    Anyone have a link to these photos? I can't seem to locate them using Google. Thanks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      jackn, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:16am

      Re:

      and I thought the original photos were acquired from apple properties?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      Clearly it's Google's fault that the pictures were leaked in the first place. If it weren't for Google, nobody would be interested in seeing celebrities naked and they'd have nowhere to share them because Google is the interweb!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      thefappening.so

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:25pm

        Re: Re:

        So I just went to thefappening.so and googled the first person listed on the site, "Carrie Michalka" - and guess what?

        Most of the first page of search results of "Carrie Michalka" lead to the leaked porn pictures. The Pirate Bay is fourth from the top, which seems strange. Try looking up a movie, and the Pirate Bay site might come up in 200th place if you're lucky, so apparently Google's intentional de-listing of popular torrent sites like TPB only applies to searches of Hollywood-produced content.

        So indeed their accusations against Google could be a valid legal claim. If Google is stepping in to censor search results of Hollywood films, then are they refusing to give the same treatment for the leaked Fappening photos?

        ///Slippery Slope\\\

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mike Masnick (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          So indeed their accusations against Google could be a valid legal claim.

          Based on what legal theory exactly?

          If Google is stepping in to censor search results of Hollywood films, then are they refusing to give the same treatment for the leaked Fappening photos?

          Very different situation for a whole host of reasons. Let's name just a few:

          1. There are other more legit results for the searches in movies.
          2. The copyright issue. Again, Google will remove links in response to legitimate takedown notices for copyright -- and that means where there's evidence that the person issuing the takedown holds the copyright. With the movies that's clear. With some of these photos it's not clear who holds the copyright in many cases.
          3. There is no law that says if Google ranks certain searches one way it has to do the same with other kinds of searches.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 3:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            True, there might not be any law against a search engine's acts of preferential treatment, but it's exactly the kind of argument that seems to pop up repeatedly in courts. (and anyway, we all know civil judgements don't require any laws to be broken)

            When Mininova was sued, Brein's lawyers hammered away at the fact that Mininova staff made a conscious effort to find and delete all pornographic content -- yet chose not to do this with obviously-copyrighted content unless they received a specific complaint.

            Similarly, in the Pirate Bay trial, the prosecution made an issue of TPB's systematic removal of child porn, while ignoring copyright demands.

            Those courts operated under Dutch and Swedish laws of course, but it seems the legal theory presented in both cases was that by intervening in some circumstances, a company has made itself somewhat more obligated to intervene in other circumstances.

            I suspect this is the same reasoning why usenet providers that offer binaries often refuse to discipline their customers who are breaking all the rules of civilized posting behavior and creating havoc in text newsgroups, while text-only usenet providers would readily intervene and quickly ban such a person. It's because the binary usenet providers know that any such intervention in policing their users may be used against them in a copyright lawsuit and potentially make it harder for them to justify their hands-off policy to binaries when being accused of willful ignorance to widespread copyright infringement.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Wait, that was an actually site address? I thought it was a joke.

          So indeed their accusations against Google could be a valid legal claim. If Google is stepping in to censor search results of Hollywood films, then are they refusing to give the same treatment for the leaked Fappening photos?

          Sadly enough, that argument might actually work, at least somewhat. It's also a perfect example of why Google was blowing their own foot off when they started de-listing or lowering the rankings of sites based upon demands from Hollywood and the *AA's, because now anyone else can point to that and say 'If you can do that for X, why can't you do it for Y?'

          Time and money be damned, they should have held their ground and told Hollywood to shove off, that it's not their job to decide what sites show up in what order, but simply to return the most relevant sites that the user is searching for. By folding once, they opened up the gates to demands to do the same in other cases.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:16am

    This looks like the first step in the extortion dance, next will be an offer to settle the matter for less than the threatened court costs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      WysiWyg (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:27am

      Re:

      I think you need to be more subtle and discreet than this for that to work.

      It's easier to convince someone to make you "go away" by paying you off if they can pretend like it never happened. I think. Maybe.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:27am

    Google apologized for being such a good search engine that it found celebrity nudes that others put up on the net.

    It will intentionally fubar it's main search system and rename it Bing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:30am

    Were I Google's counsel, I would counter this baffling pastiche of threats with the demand that Mr. Singer be compelled to wear the Cone Of Shame for a period of not less than 30 days. Absent this remedy, I would invite Mr. Singer to file in the proper venue - we could use the laughs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:45pm

      Re:

      Actually, Singer seems to like attention, so my reaction (were I Google) would be to type his name into the European "Forget Me" filter so all of his attention was gone.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 11:05am

    Instead of trying to get rid of a single search engine's links to some photos, why not use the search engine to find the photos and take them down where they're hosted, thereby removing them from every search engine?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 11:44am

    Dreaming

    Well just great I'm still dreaming! I know because only my subconscious could come up with shit like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    scallywag, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:50pm

    Should google be forced into now becoming the moral barometer of what is morally correct and what can and can not appear on the web and should we be concerned when a lawyer threatens the web that they can now also control what and what can not remain in the public domain, morals aside....?

    http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2014/10/hacked-celebs-lawyers-threaten-sue-google-100m-cas e/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    connermac725 (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:02pm

    google does it all

    I know google does it all but come on this guy is just plain clueless and hungry for some kind of recognition or just plain ignorant.
    bottom line if you do not want nude photos in the wild you sure do not take them in the first place.
    the only reason anyone takes a nude selfie is obviously to show it to someone

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:03pm

    I'm curious about copyright and other legal issues on leaks of material that was never intended to become public. Of course people who want to censor anything will naturally claim copyright infringement - whether valid or not- because with the statutory penalties embedded in law it's the nuclear bomb of legal accusations. But is copyright necessarily a valid claim, and if so, how is it defined?

    For instance, when does the copyright clock start ticking?

    *The date the picture was taken?
    *Or when the account was hacked?
    *Or when the pictures were first posted ed 4chan's private forum?
    *Or when they made it to the wider internet and became indexed by Google?
    *Or when the subject/owner first became aware of any of these events?

    And then if the pictures were taken by an ex-boyfriend (with or without the subject's knowledge or permission) is that the person who legally owns the copyright rather than the subject of the pictures? (or perhaps do 'revenge-porn' legalities replace copyright legalities?)

    Of course no traditional media outlet would dare publish photos (especially obscene ones) without a model release as well as copyright owner permission. But anonymous internet leaks are in a different situation entirely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      Copyright last 70 years after the death of the author (in the US, at least), so all of the dates you have specified are meaningless to it.

      Copyright is held by the artist taking the picture - unless something is a work for hire. Not having permission can be a totally different issue, but the one holding (or setting up) the camera holds the copyright, not the subject.


      Of course no traditional media outlet would dare publish photos (especially obscene ones) without a model release

      They have, do, and will.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:50pm

        Re: Re:

        "Copyright last 70 years after the death of the author (in the US, at least), so all of the dates you have specified are meaningless to it.

        Copyright is held by the artist taking the picture - unless something is a work for hire. Not having permission can be a totally different issue, but the one holding (or setting up) the camera holds the copyright, not the subject."


        In the case of the ex-boyfriend taking the picture before breaking up, I'd imagine that the subject might claim that it was a "work for hire" - and therefore she owned the pictures, not him. If so, then that would make the copyright expire 95 years after "publication" -- but then that brings us back to the original question of what point in a multi-event unauthorized leak --if any-- constitutes "publication"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 2:02pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "I'd imagine that the subject might claim that it was a "work for hire""

          She might try, but unless she can provide a contract saying that it was a work-for-hire, it's very unlikely the argument will succeed.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:54pm

      Re:

      I believe the copyright clock starts ticking as soon as the creation is 'set', in this case as soon as the picture is taken.

      As to who owns the copyright over a given picture, barring a work for hire or similar situation where there is a clear transfer of copyright, that goes to the one who took the photo.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:13pm

    Images

    Yeah Google - take down the undefined stuff belonging to undefined people now or else because reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Don't put anything on your phone you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper, fortunately for me I don't own a phone any longer. Post Snowden these people should have known better than to put their trust and need for privacy in the "cloud". Hope this moron gets disbarred, frivolous lawsuits are a PITA for the legal system in the US of A. Haven't seen nor care to see the pictures, could all be a publicity stunt for all I know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Haggie, 2 Oct 2014 @ 3:26pm

    I guess I can drop the "IANAL" disclaimer from online comments related to legal concepts since I actually understand the law better than attorney Marty Singer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radarmonkey (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 4:58pm

    An angry letter

    Dear Googles,

    I represent a lot of powerful people that had their nudie pics stolen from somebody else. I'm not going to tell you who I represent, though; you know the ones.

    I'm going to sue you for a bazillion bucks if you don't delete the pics that I'm not going to tell you about; you know the ones.

    I'ma lawyer, and stuff. I don't care if you didn't steal the pics. I don't care if you didn't post the pics. I dont' care if you host the pics. You have the money and are big, and mean, and do bad things that the government says you shouldn't do.

    Now do what I'm asking, though I didn't tell you specifically what I'm asking; you know the ones.

    If you don't, (and how can you?), you will pay me and I'll be rich!

    Signed

    -First year law student

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Crazy Canuck, 2 Oct 2014 @ 5:39pm

    I bet the meeting this lawyer had with his employees went something like...


    I have a plan, we'll sue Google for...
    *Holds little finger up to his mouth*
    One hundred million dollars...
    *maniacal laughter*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:48pm

    All they want is money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:39pm

    Good thing Marty Singer isn't with a law firm in the EU.

    If he were, he'd follow this lawsuit with one that prevents Google from removing any search results pointing to the pictures without paying a fee for each deleted link.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2014 @ 4:47am

    Isn't there a rule somewhere that the validity of a claim is inversely proportional to it's vagueness? If the claim is muddy, it's likely invalid or worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan G Difino, 3 Oct 2014 @ 9:28am

    Why only sue google for $100 Million?

    g00gle is like, 'oh I'm sooo scared.. That's like $100 to most of us. Why not make it a $100 Billion lawsuit? That make make them wet themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 3:37pm

    Like the right to be forgotten

    Just the the right to be forgotten, the lawyer is going after the wrong target. Sure, Google has deep pockets, but it's still the wrong target.
    And like the right to be forgotten, asking Google to remove the link does nothing at all to remove it from the Internet. The hosting site is still hosting it and search sites like Bing can still find it.
    So how is there even a case to file? Oh right, like the other poster said- because Google did something similar for the RIAA or MPAA so now Google has to do the same thing for this guy.

    But it does lead to a nice Steve Dallas style joke:
    Client: We need to do something about this!!
    Lawyer: We'll sue Apple... No wait, they said they already fixed the security and heir team of lawyers is too big.
    We'll sue the sites hosting the content... No, wait, they're hosted overseas and it would be too expensive to sue.
    We'll sue reddit... No, wait, they took the images down already, plus we might not be able to get much money from them.
    Who's left? Um, how about Google? I'm sure they had something to do with it.
    And how about Microsoft? They're next on the list: after we win from suing Google, we'll use it to go after Bing.
    Is there really a case here? Who cares? I'll be famous for suing Google!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Case, 4 Oct 2014 @ 5:59am

    Google, which is merely the search engine that is helping to index what other people have done


    So you've apparently been living under a rock for the last decade and missed Google's take-off from being just a search engine to owner of Youtube, Blogspot, and dozens of other sites. And living under that rock seems to have done away with your reading skills, too, since the very letter you linked plainly states that the complaint is about images hosted on Google's sites, "including Blogspot and Youtube"...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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