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The transformation of the Internet into a market of user-generated content has had some unintended consequences. In a February 2014 Atlantic article, “Our Best Weapon Against Revenge Porn: Copyright Law?” Amanda Levendowski ’14 explored the phenomenon of revenge porn and a strategy to combat it. She also worked with Professor Christopher Sprigman to create a Wikipedia definition of revenge porn (below) that was cited by the Criminal Court of the City of New York in a 2014 case.
Why haven’t others used copyright law against revenge porn? It seems counterintuitive that when you’re thinking of trying to incentivize creation and deal with “artists” that these kinds of images would fit squarely within copyright law. But when you look at what copyright protects, whom it protects— the authors who create the image, the people who took the photograph—and the kinds of remedies it provides, it makes perfect sense.
Would victims have to hire lawyers to take action? If the victims took the photos themselves, they can use the takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to ask search engines like Google and Yahoo to de-index websites with their photos and the porn sites to remove the photos, all without having to hire a lawyer.
Why would a revenge porn website comply with victims’ requests to remove the images? The DMCA has a safe harbor provision: If a website satisfies certain conditions, it’s protected from liability. If it doesn’t, it’s not.
Sexually explicit pictures, video, or other media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual… typically uploaded by ex-partners or hackers…. Many of the images are selfies [and]…are often accompanied by personal information, including the pictured individual’s full name…and addresses.