Internet Law

Women fight 'revenge porn' in class-action suit against Web host and site


First comes the request for explicit photos from a trusted boyfriend. Then, after the relationship goes bad, the public posting of the pictures on so-called “revenge porn” sites, often accompanied by personal information and shaming comments from strangers.

Once publicized on the Internet, of course, there is little, if any, chance that the photos can ever be entirely eliminated from public view. So 17 women who say they suffered such a humiliating invasion of their privacy have tried a different remedy, suing the website and Web hosting organization that they claim are responsible for facilitating the conduct. In a lawsuit filed last month in state district court in Orange County, Texas, the group, led by Hollie Toups, 32, seeks damages against GoDaddy.com and Texxxan.com for monetary damages, according to a lengthy San Francisco Chronicle article and USA Today.

“These plaintiffs seek to recover their actual damages that include their severe mental anguish and emotional distress with physical manifestations that affect their daily lives and routines, humiliation, fear and other non-economic damages, and also their economic damages,” the lawsuit states.

They are unlikely to prevail against Go Daddy, since the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects Web hosts from liability for third-party content, experts tells the newspapers. And even the case against the site itself could well be a loser.

In an email to the Chronicle using a pseudonym, an owner of Texxan.com called the suit “completely bogus” and said one’s expectation of privacy is reduced or eliminated by sending nude or semi-nude photographs to others.

Go Daddy does not comment on pending litigation, a representative told USA Today.

Nonetheless, it appears that a winning argument might be made for a cutting-edge reassessment of the current understanding of the parameters of relevant law, based on what assistant professor Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami points out is harassment directed almost exclusively at women. “It’s an incredibly ugly statement about society when you put that in a larger context of discrimination and power,” she tells the Chronicle.

Not every woman who is featured on such sites voluntarily provided photos to others. Lead plaintiff Toups says her photos, some of which were to document weight loss, never left her possession.

And the damages go beyond mere humiliation. One of the plaintiffs, Marianna Taschinger, 22, tells the newspaper she is worried about her personal safety.

“Normal people don’t subscribe to sites like this,” she says. “Only creeps. Knowing that those are the kinds of people who know where I live … I never feel safe.”

Additional and related coverage:

Law & Disorder (Ars Technica): “Revenge porn is “just entertainment,” says owner of IsAnybodyDown”

New York Daily News: “Revenge porn curators defend their X-rated websites “

Telegraph: “Revenge porn and Snapchat: how young women are being lured into sharing naked photos and videos with strangers”

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