Woman Wins $6.4 Million Revenge Porn Judgement

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 29, 2018

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Revenge PornA California woman has been awarded $6.4 million after her former boyfriend posted sexual photographs and videos of her on pornography websites, and sent links to the images to her acquaintances, her mother, and her law school classmate, without her consent.

The woman, a former law student known as “Jane Doe” for the purposes of the lawsuit, sued after her former boyfriend threatened to make her life “so miserable she would want to kill herself,” the New York Times reported.

The former boyfriend, David K. Elam II, also impersonated the woman in online dating forums. Strangers began sending her explicit messages. Some told her that they were heading to her home, and she became fearful about her safety.

Restraining Order

Elam continued his activities even after Doe obtained a restraining order requiring him to remove the material from the internet and stop impersonating her.

Federal authorities brought criminal charges against Elam, but these were dropped in 2016, according to another Times article.

The case was filed in 2014 by the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, a program run by K&L Gates, a Pittsburgh law firm that fights online harassment and revenge porn.

Fighting Revenge Porn

A variety of state and federal laws can be used to fight revenge porn. These include laws on:

  • criminal invasion of privacy
  • online impersonation
  • fraud
  • harassment and staking
  • voyeurism
  • computer fraud and abuse
  • cyberstalking
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress

California has a nonconsensual pornography law that makes it a misdemeanor offense. A former Playboy model was sentenced to community service for violating the law by taking a picture of a naked older woman at a gym and then posting it online.

The Without My Consent organization website lists legal remedies available for victims in all 50 states.

Copyright

Ms. Doe took the pictures that her boyfriend used to harass her.

As I explained in this blog,

80% of the victims of revenge porn took the photos at issue themselves. This means that they are the “authors” of those photographs and own the copyrights.

As copyright owners, the photographers can sue to stop their images from being published without their consent, and can also seek damages for infringement of their rights as copyright owners.

But before the copyright owner can sue, he or she has to register the images with the US copyright office.

Judgement Day

The judgement against Elam included punitive damages, $450,000 for copyright infringement, $3 million for the infliction of severe emotional distress, and $3 million in other damages, including for stalking and online impersonation.

The award is believed to be the second-largest award in a revenge porn case that didn’t involve a celebrity.

In a 2017 case, a Seattle couple was awarded $8.9 million when an Arizona man posted online intimate photos they’d shared with him.

I also wrote about how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on revenge porn sites.

As I blogged about previously, the operator of a revenge porn website was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of sex counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity fraud.

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