Threaten to sue, of course. Like his libel threats, this threat isn’t likely to lead to an actual lawsuit. Either (a) Twitter will prefer to avoid costly litigation by giving Johnson the low-cost alternative he demands (i.e., reinstatement of his account); or (b) Johnson won’t file such a lawsuit; or (c) Johnson will file a lawsuit and lose.
Bollaert, with his partner Eric Chanson 1, 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.
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.)
The FTC is currently soliciting comments from the public as to whether they should vote to accept the consent agreement. They should not. The FTC should proceed with litigation against Brittain for the reasons below. While I am skeptical that the FTC will reverse course — the initial vote was unanimous — additional public pressure may sway the Commission.
These are, briefly, the reasons why the FTC should void the agreement and proceed with litigating its complaint against Brittain — and why you should send a brief comment of your own:
Brittain’s victims are numerous and unlikely to speak up. Comments submitted to the FTC are public. Brittain’s scheme was a gamble that victims did not want to be associated with having nude photographs of themselves. It is unlikely that victims will be willing to speak up and make a permanent and public record of that fact.
The FTC’s action is likely to deter further justice. Brittain’s scheme was successful because he bet that his victims would pay a relatively modest sum in order to avoid the embarrassment of approaching authorities or attorneys. As the FTC has now taken action, it is unlikely that any other agency — state or federal — will be motivated to hold Brittain accountable. Those who copied him, however — including a homeless man — face years in prison.
The consent agreement will do little to deter revenge porn site operators, and the consent agreement largely requires Brittain to do only what the law already requires him to do. Given victims’ fear of public criticism, it is unlikely that few are still willing to step forward to law enforcement, if they can find an agency willing to listen to them at all. While California has taken initiative to target these sites, the vast majority of local, state, and federal law enforcement often view revenge porn sites as outside their jurisdiction — if they have the resources to identify the sites’ operators at all. Site operators, in turn, now know that they can continue to extort, shutter their sites, and walk away with the profits — facing, at most, an agreement that they not do what the law already prohibits them from doing.
Public comments may be sent to the FTC up until this Monday, March 2, 2015, and can be sent online by clicking here. If you’re at a loss for words, here’s some suggested text that you can copy and paste or modify to your leisure:
I oppose the proposed consent agreement in the matter of Craig Brittain. While I applaud the Commission’s willingness to address exploitative scams like those perpetrated by Brittain, the proposed agreement permits Brittain to walk away with the profits he procured under fraudulent and extortionate pretenses. Brittain’s brazen conduct should be squarely addressed and he should be required to disgorge his profits and return them to those who believed they were hiring an attorney (or independent firm) to remove their nude photos. The proposed consent agreement does not do that. Instead, Brittain is permitted to simply agree not to do what the law already prohibits him from doing while not admitting anything at all and, worse, makes a profit. The Commission should withdraw from the agreement and take the appropriate action.
Or perhaps you disagree and think the FTC’s action is the right thing to do. The argument can certainly be made that this ensures that Brittain will not resume his site, and the FTC’s argument that the practice was deceptive puts operators on notice. Regardless, you should let the FTC know that this is an important issue.
But the practice is not limited to these sites. Rather, other forms of social media are co-opted: photos posted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so forth are not only increasingly likely, but potentially more damaging. On a ‘dedicated’ site, an individual would be subjected to an anonymous audience (and usually extortion), but it was somewhat less likely that friends, family members, employers, and other acquaintances would see the photos. On social media, however, the results are immediate and more personal: the social circle around the victim sees the photos within minutes or hours. 1
The question, then, becomes one not necessarily of law (i.e., the operators of involuntary porn sites being arrested for peripheral offenses like extortion), but of policy. How do social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (which are, like ‘dedicated’ sites, exempt from most liability due to CDA 230) prevent or remedy this type of abuse of their networks? Of course, as the sites are largely exempt from liability due to CDA 230, they don’t have to do anything at all, but this approach would yield criticism. As Yahoo!’s CSO recently noted, “[w]e can’t tell people not to take intimate photos. We need to make that safe because that’s how people are using the technology.”
Reddit is taking the right — albeit not perfect – approach.
I’m drawing some big black lines lines in a gray area here, of course. Some sites may provide the same anonymous mass audience, which perpetrators may utilize to impersonate their victims and harness strangers to do their stalking or harassment for them. See, for example, the case against David Elam, who is alleged to have impersonated an ex-girlfriend on Craigslist and OKCupid to solicit strangers to visit her home. ↩
The violation of the CFAA — commonly referred to as ‘hacking’ — carries a minimum two year sentence, and Moore faces up to seven years in prison. It’s incredibly unlikely that Moore will receive the full seven years. More also faces fines which may reach as high as $500,000.
Moore’s charges stem from allegations, which he has admitted, that he solicited and paid co-defendant Charlie Evens to access e-mail accounts and search for nude photos, which Moore would then post on his website, IsAnyoneUp.
Evens still faces trial in March. There is no plea agreement with Evens that has been made public, if one exists, and Moore’s agreement does not include any indication that he has agreed to testify against Evens.
Last month, Ares Rights found itself the subject of renewed media attention asking whether the government of Ecuador employs the peculiar Spanish firm to deploy bogus copyright notices in an effort to censor or harass political dissidents.
(For background, you can read my original summary how Ares Rights has purported — for years – to act forf governments and officials of Ecuador and Argentina, to abuse American copyright law to remove criticism — including this very website.)
I’d begun to suspect that Ares Rights had decided to lay low for awhile, or perhaps that its ties to the government had been severed altogether — if they existed at all, anyway, as the rare statements by their purported ‘clients’ have been to deny that a contractual relationship exists. Comedic satirist John Oliver’s absolutely brutal takedown of Correa’s live-on-television doxing of his Twitter and Facebook critics only added fuel to criticism of Correa’s intolerance of dissent. (Curiously, HBO’s re-run of the episode was broadcast throughout South America –except Ecuador.)
But now, Ares Rights is back. In DMCA notices sent to YouTube, Ares Rights once again purports to act on behalf of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa (who, to my knowledge, has never denied hiring Ares Rights, even when addressing the issue), Ecuador’s state-funded television outlet ECTV (which has denied having a contractual relationship with Ares Rights), and Correa’s official television broadcasts. One of the DMCA notices sent to YouTube by Ares Rights is below.
The YouTube videos targeted by Ares Rights consist of a documentary criticizing journalistic freedom under Correa’s government. A few short clips of Correa’s televised addresses on his official program on ECTV are interwoven among interviews with various free speech advocates. In any nation with a remotely sane copyright law or a modicum of respect for the freedom of political speech, these would be fair uses exempt from claims of copyright. When the words of a politician can be subject to copyright, then the politician need only seek the removal of his own words when they’re used to criticize him.
In addition to the few clips of Correa’s speeches — which, with his handheld microphone, look more like televised sermons — the only other clip which originates from Correa’s government or television network is an advertisement, apparently produced by the communications arm of Ecuador’s government, which should be in any respectable documentary about freedom of speech in Ecuador, because it is alarming and has no place in a coherent democracy. In the ad, a woman and her son are appalled when they gather around the breakfast table and read a newspaper headline declaring, “Drunk woman crashes with her young lover.” The son says, “but mom, that’s a photo of you driving me to school.” Then the words literally start attacking the woman, and the son tells the viewer that a new communications law is needed to protect freedom of speech, as opposed to freedom of ‘distortion':
The above clip is identified in Ares Rights’ takedown notice as infringing on its putative clients’ rights. Critics of Ecuador can’t even reprint its official government propaganda in the context of criticizing it, because copyright. The government’s words, whether from the mouth of Correa or in the form of a slick public ‘service’ announcement, must come from “authorized official channels”, per Ares Rights’ claim.
The true role of Ares Rights remains unclear. Have they been hired by Correa or his government? Or are they acting independently? Until these questions are answered — and perhaps after they’re eventually answered — the content targeted by Ares Rights should be viewed and shared. Someone, whether officially sanctioned or not, doesn’t want them to be seen. Those efforts should — and must — backfire.
Kevin Christopher Bollaert has been convicted of 27 counts of felony extortion and identity theft in connection with his operation of revenge porn site YouGotPosted.com and its extortionate partner, ChangeMyReputation.com. Bollaert was acquitted of conspiracy and one charge of identity theft. More than thirty women testified to payments demanded by Bollaert’s operation.
I first identified the extortionate and fraudulent practice of Bollaert and his partner, Eric Chanson, almost a year before Bollaert’s indictment. 1 The state’s evidence — which I will detail in an update to this post later this evening — demonstrated that Bollaert operated both the revenge porn site and ChangeMyReputation, which purported to be an independent company that could remove the photos from YouGotPosted.com. Chanson, at some point — apparently after my initial post — asked Bollaert to disassociate Chanson’s name from the sites, but Chanson’s accounts were used to establish the means of soliciting payments through ChangeMyReputation. My research demonstrated that, among other things, emails sent from both YouGotPosted and ChangeMyReputation originated from the same San Diego IP address, and that the “ChangeMyReputation” operator could not identify a single other site from which photos could be removed. At the time, I called this practice “extortionate.”
After a friend — who shall remain nameless, but to whom much gratitude is owed — assisted in terminating the site’s PayPal account, Bollaert began demanding that victims pay him in Amazon gift cards. Bollaert shut down the sites almost immediately after law enforcement contacted him.
I won’t pretend to have an educated guess as to the amount of time Bollaert faces, but it’s safe to say that it’s substantial. While I could not attend the trial, I do hope to attend the sentencing.
Bollaert did raise what appears to be a defense based, in part, on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. I would be surprised if this verdict were not appealed, as it’s circumspect as to whether the extortion and, in particular, identity theft charges impermissibly treat Bollaert as a publisher, which would prevent prosecution at the hands of state authorities.
I don’t know whether law enforcement relied on my research in targeting Bolleart. I can only hope. ↩
Perhaps inappropriately so. My contribution amounted to writing a blog post. The real credit goes to the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who were willing to listen and try a difficult case, the attorneys who sued these guys pro bono, and, most importantly, the dozens of victims who were willing to speak up. ↩
It’s been almost two years since we last heard from Craig Brittain, one-time proprietor of revenge porn site “Is Anybody Down?”, but he has reappeared to apologize for the harm that his site laid upon its hundreds of victims, promising to make amends by returning the payments he extorted through his fake “lawyer,” “David Blade III.”
The revolving door of attorneys momentarily employed by censorious asshats Roca Labs has now produced this gem: the company wants to amend its complaint in its suit against PissedConsumer.com to allege that it’s defamatory to call them “censorious asshats” (which they are.)
In a complaint so long — clocking in at three hundred and fifty-four paragraphs — and saturated with images that it had to be sent to the court in four separate files, Roca “Censorious Asshats™” Labs is very angry. I’ve stitched the complaint together below, if your computer is capable of handling seventy-four pages of censorious asshattery.
While I do have a J.D., I haven't been licensed quite yet. That means you shouldn't rely on anything I write for anything more than mere amusement. I'm not an attorney. I'm not your attorney. I can't -- and won't -- give you any legal advice, here or anywhere. Even if I did, relying on someone without a license is akin to entrusting your car to a precocious six-year old who has demonstrated a proficiency on his Big Wheels bike. Don't do that.