Revenge-porn website victim files suit against ex and four porn sites

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Man with camera, image courtesy of ShutterstockA US woman in the state of Florida has filed charges against her ex-boyfriend and four websites for posting revenge porn images of her - i.e., nude photos and/or videos, including private facts and details of the victim, posted online without the subject's consent.

Holly Jacobs (a name she assumed at some point during the four years she says she's suffered repercussions) filed suit on April 18 against sextingpics.com, anonib.com, pinkmeth.tv and xhamster.com, as well as against ex-boyfriend Ryan Seay, for the "public disclosure of private facts" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

This is the second of two well-publicized suits against sites that enable revenge porn.

A similar case - this one a class action suit - was filed in January by 17 women victimized by revenge porn.

The earlier class-action suit was filed against revenge-porn site Texxxan.com, as well as against GoDaddy, for whatever profit it got off hosting a site dedicated to the victims' humiliation.

Some - such as Ars Technica's Timothy B. Lee - question whether the sites in question are, in fact, revenge porn sites, as opposed to being, in the case of Xhamster, for example, "a generic website for user-submitted pornography."

The argument is specious. A quick search on the term "revenge" on Xhamster shows that a site can certainly be both a generic porn site and a venue for revenge.

On Xhamster, you'll find titles such as "Revenge is a B*tch Real Ex Girlfriend," with a caption that describes "The ex getting f**ked on cam."

Jacobs describes the fallout of being victimized on the End Revenge Porn group's site:

Due to this act, I have had to legally change my name, stop publishing in my field (I am a PhD student), stop networking (giving presentations, going to conferences), change my email address four times and my phone number three times, change jobs, and explain to human resources at my school that I am not a sexual predator on campus.

That's a succinct and hygienic version of what happened to Jacobs.

Jacobs was interviewed by the Miami New Times, which wrote up details of the PhD student's ordeal.

Since 2009, Jacobs has experienced:

  • Naked photos of her appearing online and soon going viral, being displayed on hundreds of revenge porn websites, along with her name, phone number, and email address;
  • Photos and videos being sent to her employers;
  • Her Facebook account getting hacked, her profile photo replaced with a nude photo;
  • Cancellation of a conference presentation after Seay allegedly encouraged tnternet trolls to show up and proposition Jacobs;
  • Email threats after she began dating someone new; all of which lead her to
  • Change her name.

Jacobs has been lobbying to change state and federal laws about revenge porn. Her efforts saw some initial success.

Florida House Bill 787, titled "Computer or Electronic Device Harassment," would make it illegal to post nude pictures of someone online and tag them with personal identifying information without their written consent.

XXX stamp, image courtesy of ShutterstockIf the bill becomes law, violators could face a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and a $5,000 fine.

The bill covers both offenders in Florida and those living outside of the state who post content relating to Florida residents.

Unfortunately, according to Miami New Times, the bill has languished over the past week and now looks unlikely to pass by the time the session ends this Friday.

As far as Jacobs's lawsuit goes, Ars Technica's Lee characterized both it and the class action suit naming GoDaddy as "taking a broad, confused view of who's responsible".

Really? The suits strike me as broad, true, but not confused.

The notion of GoDaddy being taken to task hardly seems confused. It seems appropriate, the hosting provider being an accessory to the alleged crimes and having profited off them, to boot.

With regards to sites that host revenge content, they're now shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that websites aren't liable for user-submitted content.

Jacobs's case will take a while to wend its way through the courts.

In the meantime, let's hope that public awareness of the issue continues to rise, and that, eventually, laws will be passed to prevent revenge-fueled distribution of private images and data.

The world doesn't need more tragedies like that of Amanda Todd.

The world doesn't need young women being hounded into committing suicide because of shame.


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24 Responses to Revenge-porn website victim files suit against ex and four porn sites

  1. andrew · 484 days ago

    while i'm not in the least bit familiar with usa law, good on the victims for taking a stand. go after any and all they can to make it as painful as possible for the people who acted inappropriately by hosting this type of content, personal information and personal photos
    i know what i'd do if someone posted photos and information like this about someone i cared about, the laws would be there for their protection, if they weren't punished by the law, the alternative could be quite nasty

  2. InfosecPro · 484 days ago

    But any attempt to legislate remedies will certainly be viewed as Internet censorship and will be met with the same firestorm of criticism that has doomed CISPA, SOPA, PIPA, et al.

  3. Bart B · 484 days ago

    The idea that hosting copanies should be liable for what their customers do is nuts! It would be impossible to be a hosting company if the law worked like that. In this case GoDaddy are no different to AT&T, who are not liable for harrasment that happens over the phone.

    I don't see why new laws are needed - harrasment is already illegal, and the cases are being brought under current law. How you harass someone seems utterly irrelevant to whether or not you are guilty of harassment. We don't have a new law against murder each time a new weapon is used to kill someone!

    • John K · 483 days ago

      Excellent comment, Bart B. Having worked in Government I know how many" laws" are created that are unnecessary. The latest up here in Canada is that every home must have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The end result is that we can, in theory, be living in a police state where officials barge into your house and take you to jail because your CO detector's battery is dead. This all started because two people died when their chimney was blocked by soot and the CO accumulation in the house killed them. The connection is that it was a wood stove and wood burns so you need a CO detector. Nobody wanted to make a law requiring annual chimney cleaning as we had when I was a kid in Montreal.

      We have good laws already as you say. We just have to enforce them when needed. We don't need stupid laws every time something happens when someone uses a phone or a computer. Next thing you know someone will demand a law to punish men who buy women's shoes over the internet because they are perverts. Oh, the law will have to work both ways: women who buy men's shoes over the internet because they are pervertesses.

  4. First, harassment of any kind is wrong - period. Regarding GoDaddy's liability, however, the comparison between them and AT&T is not valid. Unless there's a wiretap (legal or otherwise), AT&T cannot hear any harassment which might be taking place. However, GoDaddy can see what's going on with the websites they host without the need for a wiretap. Also, I use another company for hosting all ten of my websites and their EULA clearly states certain things I can and can't do with my sites - such as hosting executable files or having porn on my site, etc. Since it's in their EULA, they would have to be responsible for having someone within the company to see that their rules are enforced. Even if GoDaddy's EULA doesn't state such restrictions, it's possible that a court might conclude that the restrictions should be included and enforced.

  5. Gavin · 484 days ago

    So you set up a site that is clearly designed as a portal for revenge porn, but you have some other stuff there too (non-revenge porn I suppose) and don't actually use the phrase 'revenge porn' yourself. If someone else posts that kind of stuff then it's not your responsibility, right? You're just hosting.

    I'm afraid I don't buy that argument. That's not good enough protection for the people whose private information ends up in such places.

    Presumably harrassment charges can be brought against the initial poster (Seay in this case) -- and I hope he gets the maximum penalty that current law allows. But how do you chase all the other sites, all the other people more tangentially involved, especially if the content was cross-posted automatically and so on? Eventually you have to figure out how to bring charges against some of those sites too when it's warranted. There should be plenty of space between 'censorship' and 'criminality' where a line can be drawn I would have thought.

  6. Craig · 484 days ago

    "The notion of GoDaddy being taken to task hardly seems confused. It seems appropriate, the hosting provider being an accessory to the alleged crimes and having profited off them, to boot."

    Should United Airlines be taken to task if someone slams one of their airplanes into a building and kills 3000 people? Shouldn't they have vetted their passengers more thoroughly?

  7. CassandraToday · 484 days ago

    In this age of networked, digital cameras, I wouldn't let *anyone* take a picture of me that I wouldn't show to my mother.

  8. CKT · 484 days ago

    Bart B makes some good points, but these hosting websites are not like AT&T, which is a free, open channel of communication. What if the sole purpose of AT&T was to facilitate smears and rumors and slander of individuals, sharing personal information about them and allowing others to conspire to slander and harass individuals? Would they be complicit in that case? I would argue that they would. That is the point of the these websites (save xHamster), which is to facilitate the spreading of hideous revenge porn. These guys are monsters and deserve to be taken down.

  9. Daniel · 483 days ago

    The easiest way to stop those videos from going online, is not making them in the first place.

    • herzco · 260 days ago

      In many cases, the people do not know they are being filmed, genius.

  10. SLEZE · 483 days ago

    Perhaps she shouldn't have shared naked photos/vids with the people she was sleeping with?

    • herzco · 260 days ago

      Again, if you READ this and other NS articles about this subject you will see that, in many cases, the people did not know they were being filmed.

  11. John · 483 days ago

    Very simple solution to this sort of thing - DON'T TAKE NAKED PICTURES OF YOURSELF OR ALLOW SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE THEM OF YOU!

  12. MierNeuker · 483 days ago

    The full force of the law should be brought to bear on the uploader, and anyone trolling her.
    There is also a case for the website operators to answer for not doing enough to discourage revenge porn being uploaded.

    What is completely over the top is holding the hosting company responsible for one website they host having one particularly vindictive customer. This is akin to holding the telephony infrastructure provider responsible for allowing a phone company to operate that has someone using their service to make scam calls.

    The force brought to bear on the idiot responsible should be large and as vindictive as he has been... and regulation could be tightened around the people that have him as a customer... but backing up until you've found a way of encompassing parties that had no reasonable way of conducting their business that would give them any control over this is absurd.

  13. John Doe · 483 days ago

    Part of the solution is encouraging people never to take these photos. Even if the ex doesn't upload them, there's a lot of ways they get leaked online.

  14. Myrddin · 483 days ago

    Women post on revenge porn sites too and then there are the "girldontdatehim" style of vengeance websites where men's names, addresses, current girl friends and even their children's details are shared with humiliating stories and embarrassing pics. Hopefully when the law changes it'll shut both revenge porn and vengeance sites down.

  15. CTsOpinion · 483 days ago

    Penalty to end revenge Porn...CASTRATION!

  16. Jack Wilborn · 483 days ago

    Legislation is a problem and most of the laws, including harassment target a specified device being used. Which means that the law can't be used against people using other types of communications. Such is legislature and writing laws. If the current laws don't cover this then they need to be corrected. Maybe not new laws, just rewrite the laws that fail to cover the problem.

    I have a hard time with the labeling of people in sex videos, when it's not them. Or taking a womens head and putting it on a nude body and saying it's her. I don't know how to legislate that, but there needs some protection for persons.

    Nobody should be driven to suicide because of what some idiot posts. Maybe most of us are not that bothered, but I could see a problem. It's difficult to get legislative people to construct laws that are good. Lots of laws go to through the system, but few make it the complete distance.

    Let's hope there is forward movement in this area and not just a dead bunch of laws.

    Jack

  17. Jess · 483 days ago

    Lets back up to what started all this. She allowed herself to be photographed and should have thought about what could happen. If it looks, smells, acts, .....like a ..... it's probably a ......

  18. Steve · 483 days ago

    This woman's ex would need a promotion to attain the rank of anal orifice. And he certainly should be prosecuted for harassment (or worse). But unless there's something missing from the story as related here, she willingly participated in the production of the material she is now complaining about, and failed to mainitain control over it. Thus she bears at least a portion of responsibility for the situation she found herself in.

    As other Naked Security bloggers have repeatedly warned, if you don't want it out there, the most effective method of prevention is not to create it!

  19. Sure section 230 may allow websites to not be complicit to what users upload, but these websites not only allow such indecent material to be uploaded to their websites, they actually encourage it, and THAT should be against the law, and open them up to lawsuits.

    Imagine if AT&T set up telephone chat rooms that cater to Rape Groups, Bullying and Racist organizations, I'm sure that someone would be quite quick to include AT&T in such lawsuits. What makes Internet Providers/Hosts immune to such laws?

    I believe that Section 230 relates more to Public sites such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and so on. You don't see these sites promoting such adolescent behaviour.

    I think (and hope someday) that these morons are jacked up by their petards once or twice by a harsh court to get this issue sorted out once and for all. Once a precedent is set...

  20. Internet Marketer · 483 days ago

    Going after GoDaddy isn't confused; it's idiotic. I don't think it's even worth arguing as to why, as anyone with an understanding of the internet and/or hosting will likely concur.

    Ms. 'Jacobs' should be going after the individual for harassment, not the websites hosting the content. In fact, the law is pretty clear-cut that if an individual knew nude pictures of them were being taken, they have no recourse if these pictures are disseminated.

    Her ex's actions could definitely be called into question and I'm sure he'd be found liable for harassing actions, but merely putting the pictures online wouldn't be one of those.

    I suspect the damages aren't nearly as severe as stated, due to the fact that she seems to be trying to milk this for all it is worth, hence suing the websites as well as GoDaddy, for not even actually violating any laws.

    Sue the boyfriend, sure. Don't drag the rest of the internet into this when the laws are already clear-cut.

    I sympathize with Ms. Jacobs definitely, but for future reference, maybe she shouldn't let someone take and possess nude pictures of her if she's worried about this happening. She knew the risks...

  21. John Smith · 479 days ago

    Of course it took fifteen years and an attractive, female victim for women to rally against Section 230.

    When it was just men targeted, like with "don't date him" websites, women cheered it. A cable news anchorditz called one of those a "social networking site."

    It reminds me of women who act shocked when they realize that stalking laws apply in reverse.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.