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A Student's View:  Revenge Porn – Where to Draw the Line

A student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2014 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “You just went through a nasty breakup with your significant other. A few days after your final fight, a friend sent you the link to an inappropriate website and you are on the front page. You significant other posted a personal video of the two of you being intimate and included your name in the video description. What can you do? What should you be able to do? What would you do?”

As students, we are often reminded that it is extremely important to protect our virtual online image in order to prevent jeopardizing future career opportunities. With revenge porn, selfies and videos taken using poor judgment can come back to haunt many amateur “models” and “actresses.” For this reason, we should never engage in any photo ops or video shoots which we would not want the entire world to see. Unfortunately, there are many cases where footage is hacked, stolen or even recorded, unknowingly, and without consent. Although smartphones and social media have revolutionized the way we communicate, there have been both positive and negative consequences to society’s rapidly expanding global village. One of the negative consequences has been the increased potential of infringement upon our First Amendment right to privacy.

In California, if a personal private video is posted without consent, the victim is protected under new legislation. Senate Bill 255 makes it a misdemeanor to post identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without receiving their consent. The law applies only to images captured by the other individual and not to self portraits. Self portraits can be protected by obtaining copyrights.

Revenge porn is actually still legal in all states except New Jersey. Proponents of revenge porn websites use the First Amendment right to free speech and section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in their defense. The act states that website owners cannot be held liable for content submitted by viewers.

In most states, victims of revenge porn often have little recourse. They can notify the FBI and file takedown notices (DCMAs). However, once an image is on the Internet, it is often impossible to remove it completely. Some revenge porn websites advertise a different site which can remove unwanted posts for a fee. In some instances, both businesses are owned by the same individual(s). In such cases, the owner(s) should be charged with extortion.

If necessary, the victim also has the option of a civil trial for punitive damages. The victim could seek monetary compensation for crimes such as harassment, and finical costs incurred as a result of damage to one’s reputation. However, these types of claims may be difficult to prove since there is a fine line between protecting privacy rights and impeding free speech.

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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.  

  • Privacy , Privacy - Private Facts
  • May 22, 2014

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