from the two-miserable-humans-profiting-on-the-misery-of-others dept
Here's a little bit more evidence to throw on the pile marked "You Don't Need to Destroy the First Amendment/Section 230 to Stop Revenge Porn."
Eric Chanson and Kevin Bollaert, proprietors of the revenge porn site YouGotPosted, are now on the hook for $450,000 each, thanks to a default judgment. This lawsuit rests heavily on the duo's violation of child pornography laws, so it's not a complete win for revenge porn opponents, but it does suggest a way out for minors who find themselves posted on sites operated by similar blights on humanity.
Defendants watermarked sexually explicit photographs of Plaintiff, a minor, with a “You Got Posted” logo and then posted them on the Website, along with identifying information including Plaintiff’s name and state of residence (California). Defendants did not take any steps to verify Plaintiff’s age before posting her photographs. Nor did Defendants obtain Plaintiff’s consent or that of her parents. According to the complaint, Defendants were aware that Plaintiff was a minor and that the images constituted child pornography when they posted the images on the Website. Defendants used Plaintiff’s photographs to advertise the Website and profited from using Plaintiff’s images.Neither of the defendants mounted much of a challenge to the allegations. Chanson filed a motion for dismissal after being served but the court denied it nine months later. Chanson was deemed to have defaulted in June of last year, based on his lack of communication after his September 2013 motion.
Bollaert, on the other hand, was detained by more pressing matters -- like his arrest for extortion, online harassment and identity theft. All of the charges were problematic (especially the harassment charge, which somehow managed to bypass established Section 230 protections), but they did manage to keep Bollaert otherwise occupied as the lawsuit against him proceeded. Still, Bollaert was served two months before his arrest and had the option to file a response at any point, seeing as his conviction on the extortion charge (the most logical of the charges brought -- considering Chanson and Bolleart ran a side business taking down YouGotPosted material for a fee) didn't actually occur until February of 2015.
All in all, the pair's accuser was awarded $150,000 (from each) in statutory damages under US child pornography laws, along with $150,000/each in punitive damages and another $150,000/each for violations of California's ridiculous "publicity rights" law. It may seem slightly more palatable when it's being used to punish revenge porn site operators, but that still doesn't make that bad law any less stupid or easily abused.
It all adds up to $450,000 from each of the defendants and the option to pursue legal fees is still open.
If you're looking to shut down revenge porn site operators, this particular case doesn't have a whole lot to offer, other than the likelihood that pursuing a lawsuit could easily result in a default judgment if your allegations are solid. Judging from past events, it seems unlikely that many revenge porn site operators are interested in defending their actions in front of a judge. It also provides some comfort for minors whose photos and information have been posted at these sites.
On the other hand, easily-abused laws (with the exception of California's publicity rights statute) weren't abused to pursue these site owners. There was no suggestion that posting pictures without authorization is automatically copyright infringement or any desire expressed to punch holes in Section 230 protections. That's a plus for the internet in general. And the outcome shows there are a multitude of ways to approach the revenge porn problem that don't involve carving out chunks of the First Amendment.