Jason Lee Van Dyke is a lawyer in Texas whose own website
describes himself as the "meanest lawyer in Texas" (technically it says "meanest lawyers" but the "attorneys" tab on his website only lists him.) Either way, his site promises "a highly practical 'no bullshit' approach to the practice of law." It also notes that the Van Dyke law firm is "unafraid of using novel arguments and tactics if we think that our clients may benefit from them." Novel arguments and tactics can be a good thing... but it kinda goes the other way when you're making a clearly bogus argument, ignoring basic existing safe harbor laws, potentially dragging all sorts of totally unrelated parties into court, while seeking a broad injunction that clearly violates the First Amendment. And that, it seems, is exactly what Jason Lee Van Dyke has done in filing a lawsuit against the Tor Project and Pinkmeth.com
It should be noted, first of all, that Pinkmeth is yet another revenge porn site. We've written a bunch about revenge porn
over the last few years, and hopefully most of us can agree that the folks who run these sites are horrible people, encouraging others to upload naked photos of unwitting folks, while often running a related extortion-like scam
to get people to pay up to have their photos removed. We've been happy to see some of the folks who run these sites arrested
-- when it appears there are legitimate charges against them -- but have been fearful about how others are trying to stretch
the law to go after them.
Jason Van Dyke didn't just stretch the law, he seems to have decided to jump on a bulldozer and plow it right through the law with a legal filing so bad
it makes you wonder how Van Dyke ever passed the bar. As nice as it would be to get Pinkmeth to shut down, abusing the law is no way to do it. Let's start with the most problematic aspects of the lawsuit, though, and that's lumping Tor into the lawsuit with Pinkmeth. First, it appears that a year and a half ago, Van Dyke was somehow able
to get a judge to order the Pinkmeth.com domain put on hold
by VeriSign. In response, the folks behind Pinkmeth set up the site as a Tor Hidden Service, like many other such hidden services (like the Silk Road).
Van Dyke, who does not seem to understand how Tor functions, or to have ever come across Section 230 of the CDA, is trying to claim that the Tor project is liable as part of a "conspiracy" with Pinkmeth:
Pinkmeth and TOR conspired to and had a meeting of the minds regarding the commission certain torts against Plaintiff more adequately described in paragraphs 5.1 - 5.15 above, as well as certain felony offense described in paragraph 4.8 and 4.9 above. The specific object to be accomplished by the conspiracy was the publication pornographic images of Plaintiff (and other women) on the Pinkmeth website in such a manner so as to prevent its operators and users from being held civilly and criminally accountable for this unlawful behavior.
Of course, Tor is just a tool, and claiming there was any "meeting of the minds," let alone any possible liability here, is ridiculous. In fact, many of the direct claims against Pinkmeth itself are likely protected under Section 230 as well, but we'll get to that. After the internet started trying to explain to Van Dyke how Tor worked, he first shrugged
that he could dismiss the Tor Project later if he wants, and then issued a hilarious press release in which he tries to both back up his attack on the Tor Project and
prime himself to back down against them at the same time. It has to be read to be believed. Here are some choice quotes:
The TOR Project Inc., ("TOR") is a slightly different story. They were named as a conspirator in the lawsuit based upon our belief that they were hosting PinkMeth or providing it with services that have allowed its operators to continue to escape justice.
First off, Tor doesn't host anything. I mean, a 5 second Google search should teach you that. I don't care if you're the meanest lawyer in Texas, you should be able to do a basic Google search. Second, "providing it with services that have allowed its operators to continue to escape justice" is a fascinating legal standard. Once again, Van Dyke would be well served to look up Section 230, or hell, just about anything concerning how basic liability works.
This was not an unprecedented action by our office.
Yes, actually, it was.
Claims brought against hosting companies such as GoDaddy have survived dismissal in similar lawsuits.
First, Tor isn't a hosting company, so you got that wrong. Second, while he's sorta kinda correct that a similar lawsuit against GoDaddy survived past the dismissal stage, he conveniently leaves out
that that decision was decisively overturned
once a real court looked at it and pointed out that the lower court somehow totally ignored Section 230, meaning the lawsuit against GoDaddy was
dismissed, contrary to what Van Dyke implies.
Just today it was reported that a TOR exit node operator in Austria was convicted of abetting the spread of child pornography.
First off, that wasn't today, it was last week and we wrote about it here
, with the point being that it was a ridiculous ruling that almost everyone finds problematic. Second, a tor exit node is not run by the Tor project, so the comparison is meaningless. Third, it's Austria, not the US, where any such claim would get laughed out of court just as fast as Van Dyke's lawsuit here will be.
It is our position that, if TOR provided goods or services of any nature to PinkMeth, that they are liable to Ms. Conklin. A review of the TOR website further confirmed by belief that, although it may have been originally designed for legitimate uses, is now used almost solely to aid and abet criminal conduct.
Yeah, I'll just leave that one there for people to laugh at. He then goes on to blame Pinkmeth
for making him file against Tor, because Pinkmeth mentions that they're a Tor hidden service. Then the backtrack begins:
Since the filing of our lawsuit and service of legal process on PinkMeth, evidence has emerged that TOR may not have provided any goods or services to PinkMeth. We are still working to determine what degree of control, if any, TOR has over those who use TOR hidden services and to what extent they may be able to provide us information regarding those responsible for publishing PinkMeth. Naturally, if TOR has played no role in PinkMeth's re-emergence, has not provided PinkMeth with goods or services of any kind, and is unable even to assist in identifying those responsible for publishing PinkMeth, they will be dismissed from our lawsuit.
Uh, think you could have done that research before
filing a lawsuit, sparky? Anyway, Van Dyke is not done with Tor yet. He's pretty sure that even if they didn't break the law here, it's a bad
thing and should be outlawed:
This is not so [sic] say that we endorse the types of service that TOR is providing. We believe condemn [sic] them in the strongest possible terms and strongly disagree with their assertion that there is any "right" for the publishers of online content to remain anonymous.
For a guy who describes himself
as "the most right wing lawyer in Texas" you'd think he'd be at least marginally familiar with the First Amendment, and things like the Supreme Court's decision in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission
, which pretty clearly states:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
At the very least, you'd think he'd be familiar with things like the Federalist Papers and the importance of anonymous speech in the history of our democracy. But, no. Apparently not. He goes on to suggest that the legislature should ban Tor
. Good luck with that.
Oh, and while most of the focus is on his lawsuit against the Tor Project, the other parts of his lawsuit against Pinkmeth seem fairly problematic as well. Nearly all of the claims are likely precluded by Section 230, because Van Dyke seems to pin the blame for what a user
of Pinkmeth did on Pinkmeth itself. That's not how the law works, no matter how "mean" you might be. I'd be happy if there were a way to legally take Pinkmeth down, but this isn't it. Next, he makes a bizarre mention of how there isn't a fair use defense here, despite never actually making a copyright claim in the lawsuit:
Pinkmeth cannot claim "fair use" of any of the images they have misappropriated on its website because the illegal publication of child pornography and adult pornography (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2257) can never be lawful. In the specific case of the Plaintiff, she owns all the copyrights to the images stolen by Defendant. She has never given Defendant, or any other person, permission to access or distribute her photographs.
Given that, you'd think there would actually be a copyright claim somewhere in the filing. But there isn't. And I won't even bother getting into the question of why he's jumping back and forth between copyright law and child porn and a law about keeping records in porn production. Fair use has nothing to do with any of that. And, while it may be true that the Plaintiff holds the copyright on it, given Van Dyke's other problems understanding the law, it seems like there should be a bit more evidence to support that.
Then, the lawsuit goes even further, demanding "an all-encompassing order" which would impact a huge number of non-parties to the lawsuit, demanding a massive amount of prior restraint, all because of photos of one person. In particular, he demands that:
(a) All top level domain name providers and companies, including Verisign Inc. and ICAAN, cause "pinkmeth.com" and other websites containing the "pinkmeth" verbage to be obliterated or otherwise rendered permanently inaccessible;
(b) All domain name registrars and hosting companies, including TOR, be enjoined and restricted from providing, or continuing to provide, any Internet-related services to the Pinkmeth;
(c) All search engines companies (e.g. Google and Yahoo) be enjoined from (i) including any pornographic photographs of Plaintiff in their search engine results; and (ii) including Pinkmeth in their search engine results;
(d) All social media websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) be enjoined from permitting Defendant to utilize their services.
He further requests that, without any hearing, the court issue a temporary restraining order granting all of the above. I recognize that he doesn't understand Tor, doesn't understand the internet, doesn't seem to know about Section 230 and is a bit weak in his understanding of the First Amendment, but really, does he not understand the nature of prior restraint? The idea that this entity should be wiped off the face of the internet entirely, prior to any sort of hearing, flies in the face of basically all First Amendment law.
You can be the meanest lawyer in Texas, but it might help to have some clue about the law and the technology you're suing. Unfortunately, Jason Lee Van Dyke seems to fail at most of that.