Kevin Bollaert was sentenced by a San Diego court to 18 years in prison following his February conviction on twenty-seven counts of extortion and identity theft. Bollaert was the chief operator of YouGotPosted.com (later uGotPosted.com), which published the nude photos of over ten thousand men and women, almost uniformly without their permission.
Bollaert, with his partner Eric Chanson , monetized his site with both advertisements and a more devious plan. He launched ChangeMyReputation.com, which ‘advertised’ on YouGotPosted as an independent service which could remove the photos from YouGotPosted in exchange for a few hundred dollars. I wrote about Bollaert’s site before his arrest, demonstrating that he operated both YouGotPosted and ChangeMyReputation.com.
Kevin Bollaert is the first revenge porn site operator to be convicted and sent to prison. Hunter Moore, widely viewed as the progenitor of revenge porn sites, will be sentenced in June after taking a plea deal on CFAA charges. Craig Brittain, the patron saint of harnessing revenge porn as a means of extortion, somehow escaped with only a light bruising on the wrist from the FTC, despite having the most bizarre (and malicious) plot.
During sentencing, four victims testified. One testified that her parents had disowned her when they saw the photos on the website and that she’s been homeless since. Another asserted, similarly, that her parents had largely cut contact with her as a result of the photos being posted, and that she had lost her religious faith because of the resulting trauma. Another, who serves in the armed forces, said he would not re-enlist at the end of his service, due to the embarrassment in front of and harassment from colleagues. One noted that she found out about the posts because she received four hundred Facebook messages. The victims almost uniformly noted a constant concern that people looking at them in public were doing so because they recognized them from the site — one expressed a constant worry that the people he met had likely seen he and his wife on the site before they even met him.
Bollaert’s parents also spoke, his father struggling to gain composure before reading a prepared statement. They both noted their embarrassment from what their son had done, and the impact it had on the victims’ lives. They asked that the judge be lenient, as Bollaert couldn’t begin to recompense his victims from a jail cell, but could get a job with a family business.
Bollaert had a prior conviction for making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm. That prosecution arose out of Bollaert’s purchase of 31 semiautomatic weapons, believing that they could be stored and then sold at a profit if the Obama administration pushed new gun control laws. The ATF apparently took notice of the large quantity of firearms and saw that Bollaert had filled out a form using his PO Box, when his residential address was required. Prosecutors used this conviction to paint Bollaert as living off the grid and attempting to create new income streams in gray legal areas.
The prosecution also noted that Bollaert had $20,000 cash in a backpack when he was arrested, apparently the fruit of extortionate payments from the site’s victims. This, they argued, was an indication that Bollaert knew that his conduct was less-than-lawful, countering the defense’s argument that Bollaert believed that his site was legal — in part, at least, because of Hunter Moore’s crowing about how nobody would stop him and that his site was legal. (I would have also pointed out that Bollaert hid the fact that he ran both the “ChangeMyReputation” site and the revenge porn site, which indicates that he knew it would look extortionate if he solicited payments directly.)
Bollaert did not testify at trial, nor did he call any witnesses. His case, I’m told, largely centered on (1) the argument that his conduct did not meet California’s statutory definition of extortion; and (2) a defense under §230 of the Communications Decency Act. I believe that Bollaert has a fairly strong argument that his conviction is barred by §230. I discuss his possible arguments after the jump. (It’s rather boring — and I’m probably wrong, but someone has to raise these issues, even in defense of a revenge porn site extortionist. Only Nixon could go to China, I suppose.)