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Jul 28

New Bill Targets Internet Extortion

The Daily Journal

July 28, 2014 – Brian Kabateck and Evan Zucker wrote a column published in the July 28, 2014 edition of the Daily Journal about the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a law that immunizes Internet service providers for third-party content they publish. Despite the law’s good intentions, Kabateck and Zucker note, the CDA has allowed a number of business that make money through extortion and humiliation to proliferate.

“A cottage industry of websites has been publishing names and embarrassing images or information about people, without their consent, and then offering to take it down for a hefty fee,” Kabateck and Zucker wrote. “The companies that operate these sites contend that the First Amendment legitimizes their scheme and shields them from liability. In some instances they also seek safe harbor behind the CDA by asserting that the embarrassing images or information are not produced or generated by the site owner, but some third party.”

Among the examples Kabateck and Zucker cite are revenge porn websites, which post pornographic images sent in by ex-spouses or ex-boyfriends or girlfriends. Another example is mug shot websites, which post booking photos regardless of whether the subject was wrongfully arrested and then charge the subject money to take their photo down.

In an effort to stop mug shot websites’ abusive practices, California state Sen. Jerry Hill has proposed Senate Bill 1027 which would make it illegal to charge removal fees to take down booking photos and allow a victim to recover up to $1,000 in damages for each violation.

“The proposed California bill SB 1027 targets the mug shot website business wholly, prohibiting image removal fees and providing limited relief to those aggrieved,” the authors wrote. “But courts’ interpretation of the protections of the CDA and the reach of First Amendment protection for commercial and extortive speech might represent the long-term solution necessary to eliminate these business schemes permanently. For those who have already lost jobs and up to thousands of dollars in removal fees as a result of extortion websites, relief cannot come soon enough.”