Operator of Revenge Porn Site Sentenced to 18 Years

As reported by NPR, the operator of a “revenge porn” website has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of six counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity fraud.

Revenge PornKevin Bollaert, 28, operated websites called UGotPosted.com and ChangeMyReputation.com. He encouraged people to post intimate pictures of others as well as gossip about them, without the consent of those depicted.

During a 10-month period, more than 10,000 photos were posted on UGotPosted.com. Most of these photos were of women. When the victims objected, they were directed to the ChangeMyReputation.com site.

Bollaert charged $250-$300 to have photos removed from his site. According to the Associated Press, he earned about $900 per month in advertising revenue in addition to collecting $30,000 from victims.

Bollaert had $20,000 in cash on him when he was arrested, according to a Twitter commentator who attended his sentencing, as reported by TechDirt. He apparently invested some of the proceeds in firearms, buying 31 guns using a PO Box for an address, in the belief that Pres. Obama intended to pass restrictive gun laws that would increase the value of certain weapons.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said:

Sitting behind a computer committing what is essentially a cowardly and criminal act will not shield predators from the law or jail. We will continue to be vigilant and investigate and prosecute those who commit these deplorable acts.

Revenge Porn Defined

The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project of the law firm K&L Gates LLP defines revenge porn as:

a form of sexual abuse that involves the distribution of nude/sexually explicit photos and/or videos of an individual without their consent. Revenge porn, sometimes called nonconsensual pornography, is usually posted by a scorned ex-lover or friend, in order to seek revenge after a relationship has gone sour.

Immunity for Online Extortion?

Some suggest that §230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) could be construed as providing immunity for operators of revenge porn websites. The act provides:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

In order to benefit from this immunity provision, a website operator must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The defendant must be a "provider or user" of an "interactive computer service."
  2. The cause of action asserted by the plaintiff must treat the defendant as the "publisher or speaker" of the harmful information at issue.
  3. The information must be "provided by another information content provider," i.e., the defendant must not be the "information content provider" of the harmful information at issue.

In the 2011 case of Ascentive, LLC v. Opinion Corp., a federal court ruled on an extortion claim against a website that removed negative consumer reviews for a price, finding that the website appeared to qualify for immunity under the CDA.

As discussed by TechDirt, the same logic may apply to the operators of revenge porn sites on which content is posted by third parties. Bollaert’s sentence was considered surprisingly harsh and may yet be appealed.

Using Copyright Law Against Revenge Porn

As I previously discussed, lawyers are also using copyright law to shut down revenge porn sites. A California law firm filed suit on behalf of a law student whose sexually explicit pictures were posted on pornography sites by her former boyfriend.

If you’ve been the victim of revenge porn…

If you have had your own pictures, or pictures of yourself, posted online without your consent, you may wish to contact the police in your area about making a criminal complaint. You may also wish to consult with a copyright attorney or a tort lawyer with expertise in privacy-related torts.

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