Just two weeks ago, on January 23, 2014, “the most hated man on the Internet” was arrested by the FBI. Hunter Moore, the proprietor of IsAnyoneUp.com and best known as the “Revenge Porn King,” and his accomplice, Charles “Gary” Evens, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 15 counts, including conspiracy, unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, and aggravated identity theft. Oddly, none of the charges brought against Moore condemned him for publicizing private, sexually explicit photographs of women without their permission.
Revenge porn consists of graphic photos or videos, typically of women, posted online without the consent of those depicted. These pictures are often shared with a significant other but subsequently disseminated across the Internet by that same partner once the relationship dissolves and feelings turn bitter and spiteful. Although there are plenty of self-submissions by wannabe “models,” Moore crossed legal boundaries by hiring Evens to hack private email accounts and steal more nude pictures. The website went as far as identifying the women it victimized by providing their social media contact information, exposing their lives to the harassment of Internet creeps.
And yet, revenge porn is not generally illegal.
Currently, only two states have addressed the legality of posting naked pictures without the subject’s permission. New Jersey criminalized revenge porn in 2005, and California just passed its own anti–revenge-porn legislation last October, likely in response to the escalating notoriety of Moore’s malicious practices.
However, the few steps that Californian authorities have taken do not sufficiently address the extent of the problem. California’s new law only applies if the photographer distributes the picture of the victim; California does not protect “selfies,” pictures the victim takes of herself, even though a study has shown that nearly 80% of explicit pictures are self-taken. Additionally, California’s law does not apply to third-parties who simply repost pictures, and federal law specifically precludes third-party liability for user-submitted content. Moreover, law enforcement generally does not get involved unless there are allegations of child pornography.
While criminal law seems largely inadequate at this point, victims may still be able to prevail under copyright laws. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, victims are the “authors” of their own selfies and may thus request that websites remove their photos and search engines de-index said websites. Websites that ignore cease-and-desist demands may be liable for up to $150,000 per picture for copyright infringement.
Several other states have introduced laws similar to the precedents set by New Jersey and California. However, pending legislation has no effect on curbing the explosion of revenge porn online. In the meantime, practicing digital voyeurism risks more than a little indignity. Moral of the story: Be careful who you Snapchat.