Internet Law

How to battle revenge porn? Calif. lawmakers pass law; prof sees no-nude-photo solution

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A bill awaiting California Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature takes aim at “revenge porn”—in which scorned ex-lovers post nude online photos of the person who dumped them.

The law would make revenge porn a misdemeanor, but it doesn’t apply to photos taken by the victim, and it requires the person posting the photos to intend to cause emotional distress, the New York Times reports. Other revenge porn victims have filed civil suits, citing copyright infringement, invasion of privacy or child pornography, the story says.

Only New Jersey punishes revenge porn, according to the Times and Fox News. Its law was passed after a Rutgers University student committed suicide soon after learning his romantic encounter was captured on a webcam by his roommate. The statute makes it a felony to share a person’s nude images without consent.

Some lawyers warn that such laws have to be narrowly drawn to avoid First Amendment issues. The issue has led to an online debate between Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who argues there is no need to change the federal law that protects Web hosts from liability for third-party content, and University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks, who has drafted a model state law to criminalize revenge porn.

Writing at Forbes, Goldman says distasteful websites often fail because of public pressure. He also sees a long-term solution: “We as a society will necessarily have to adjust our social norms about the dissemination of nude or sexual depictions to reflect their ubiquity,” he writes. “Still, for individuals who would prefer not to be a revenge porn victim or otherwise have intimate depictions of themselves publicly disclosed, the advice will be simple: don’t take nude photos or videos.”

Franks responds at Concurring Opinions, saying Goldman fails to recognize the “gendered dimensions” of revenge porn and fails to note its harm. Goldman’s advice “is yet another provision of the Disciplinary Code for Women,” Franks writes. “In addition to restricting where they walk, how they dress, how much they drink, let us add that women should refrain from engaging in any form of consensual sexual activity that any person could possibly ever use against them.”

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