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.”
Just kidding. Craig entered into a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over his site and, meanwhile, joined the feral tornado known as Gamergate. He’s busy setting the record straight about the conspiracy theories that birthed “David Blade.” But it’s difficult to set the record straight when you can’t keep your story straight.
The background: In late 2011, Craig Brittain and a partner started a revenge porn site known as “Is Anybody Down?” To get nude photos for the site, Brittain — who has been accused of impersonating a woman online in order to harass her — posed as a woman on Craigslist personals ads. To have the photos removed from the site — requests Craig Brittain openly mocked — victims had to pay $250 to “The Takedown Lawyer”, “David Blade III”, who claimed to be a “pro bono” public defender in New York who went to college with Brittain and could get photos removed within hours.
It was a dumb scheme poorly implemented. Brittain himself registered the domain for “David Blade” — the site’s only advertiser 1 –and First Amendment attorneys Marc Randazza and Ken White discovered that emails from Brittain and “David Blade” were being sent from the same Colorado Springs IP address, at which point the “Takedown Lawyer” was quickly replaced by the “Takedown Hammer”, offering the exact same ‘service.’ Brittain, in turn, tried to use copyright law to force Popehat.com to remove the David Blade emails.
After claiming that his critics — myself included — were being paid $350,000 to criticize his site and that the David Blade emails are utter forgeries, 2 Brittain shuttered “Is Anybody Down?” in March or April of 2013 because he didn’t like running it. By pure coincidence, CBS reported that an unnamed federal agency was preparing an investigation right about the same time.
Sure enough, the FTC announced today that it had entered into a consent decree — similar to the settlement of a lawsuit or a plea deal — with Brittain. The FTC’s complaint recounts the Craigslist scheme and the David Blade scam. Under the agreement, Brittain denies the allegations, but agrees to destroy the material he posted on his site, is prohibited from posting nude photos in the future, is prohibited from pretending to be another person online in connection with a business, and has to keep the FTC apprised of his current employment.
Two copycats of Brittain’s scheme — including one who copied, name and all, the “Takedown Hammer” website — have since been indicted in California for extortion. One, Kevin Bollaert, is currently on trial.
Actually, My Revenge Porn Site Was Good (But Revenge Porn Doesn’t Exist)
With criticism among some Gamergate devotees bubbling, Brittain penned a screed attempting to explain that “revenge porn” isn’t even real — it’s just a “fictional narrative like ‘Rape Culture'” — and, actually, his website was good: it was the target of a secret operation by the Chinese military and resulted in “no less than 200 of the women pictured” were offered modeling contracts for upwards of $100,000. In the end, Craig says, his revenge porn site caused “zero damage.” Besides, those photos were posted with “consent” because they were uploaded publicly, and “revenge porn” is “the equivalent of” sharing screenshots of “embarrassing tweets.” IsAnybodyDown was actually a “journalism website.”
Nobody believed that, and criticism soon focused on David Blade.
The Many Faces of “David Blade III”, Also Known As Craig Brittain.
Brittain’s story about the real identity of “David Blade” has one consistent component: it’s always evolving, and it’s never Craig Brittain.
Craig’s most cohesive explanation is on video:
From this, and elsewhere, we can glean some important ‘facts':
- Blade “is an attorney“, but Craig doesn’t know if Blade is an attorney.
- Blade was actually a rival revenge porn site owner.
- Blade was “one of my buddies, they invented this lawyer” — a quote Brittain claimed is inaccurate, but you can listen for yourself:
- Craig has no gotdam idea who David Blade is, but he totally exists and there are people who know how to contact him.
- Craig doesn’t know if David Blade exists, but he knows that “Dave” has “multiple children,” so people really need to “stop fucking with Dave.”
- Craig went to college with whoever created David Blade, but doesn’t know the names of the people who are running the operation.
- Craig doesn’t know who’s involved, except for his “contact” — “James” and Craig doesn’t know how to get ahold of them except through emailing “James.”
- The whole thing was a new operation created by former employees of DMCA.com, which helps people remove copyrighted content from the internet. And they’re in Canada, making it likely that they are actually hot models.
- Blade is actually some guy in India.
- Blade never actually existed, but was a “poltergeist“, a “complete fabrication” created by his critics.
- Craig is totally not David Blade III, Esq. What’s really made up here are emails sent by “David Blade” to a lawyer.
The contradictions are stark. David Blade and the Takedown Hammer are people in Canada, or maybe a guy named “Mayur” in India, and Craig went to college with one of them, but doesn’t know how to contact him — except by email — because he only has a “contact” named “James.”
Brittain: Please Prove My New Story Wrong. (Okay.)
After years of claiming that “David Blade” was the creation of ex-employees of DMCA.com starting a new venture, the story now is that these weren’t ex-employees of DMCA.com, but the whole “Takedown Hammer” site was DMCA.com. Brittain has “paperwork” proving as much, but he can’t share it.
Brittain further explains that while he simply owned the domains TakedownLawyer.com and TakedownHammer.com, the site was always hosted on a server belonging to DMCA.com — that “the domain was only used as a redirect to dmca.com’s server” — a statement he repeated several times. 3 He invites someone to prove him wrong:
Unfortunately for Brittain, records kept by DomainTools conclusively demonstrate otherwise.
When IsAnybodyDown first began to advertise the “Takedown Lawyer,” the revenge porn site claimed to be hosted on a server in Romania. Whether this is true is unclear, as IsAnybodyDown relied upon Cloudflare to mask its true IP address, but we’ll assume this was a rare moment of honesty from Brittain.
We can make that assumption because the records for TakedownLawyer.com and TakedownHammer.com show that those sites were hosted on Romanian servers. 4 It would be quite the coincidence if DMCA.com were to have hosted a startup extortion business using Romanian servers when the only website they served, IsAnybodyDown, also claimed to be hosted on Romanian servers.
It gets worse. Not only were TakedownLawyer.com and TakedownHammer.com hosted on a Romanian server, they were — by the sheerest coincidence — hosted on the same Romanian IP address 5 as Trolldown.com, a site created by Brittain to espouse his theories that his critics were being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by “Big Porn” to criticize him. In other words, Craig’s assertion that he simply controlled the domains for “David Blade”, and that the “Takedown Hammer” websites were hosted on DMCA.com’s servers is a demonstrable fabrication.
But I didn’t make any money and it was two years ago. And thoughts on the FTC
Brittain now claims that he didn’t make any money from IsAnybodyDown, or from “David Blade.” That would seem to contradict what he told CBS: that he made upwards of $4,000 per month. One of these is a lie.
Since shuttering his sites, Brittain has apparently found some success, buying a BMW as a testament to his support for the Gamergate cyberspasm.
Perhaps before he rewards himself with a luxury car, he should pay back the people he extorted through a wire fraud scheme.
The FTC consent order is pretty toothless. Brittain doesn’t have to pay anyone back, even though he apparently could afford it and, according to the FTC, he made approximately $12,000 from his scam. Its only real effect is that Brittain can’t operate a similar site in the future, and he has to tell the FTC where he’s working in the future. It’s little deterrence to other revenge porn site operators: if you shut down your site, you’ll get a public reprimand, but nothing else. Keep the change.
UPDATE (1/31/15): Craig Brittain’s apology — and DMCA.com’s response.
Brittain has penned another screed apologizing for the “damage” his site has done, which would seem to contradict his post three weeks ago, when he claimed his site caused “no damage” and was actually good. And, just two days before the FTC settlement was announced, Craig claimed that Hunter Moore — the progenitor of the revenge porn genre — “didn’t hurt anyone.” Brittain also claims that “financial penalties were not issued was that I was able to demonstrate that I did not make any financial gain from IAD, and in fact, I am currently already struggling and largely in debt[.]” Last month he claimed to be making “six figures” and that he had just spent a pretty penny on a BMW — not to mention his prior claim to CBS that he was making thousands of dollars per month off of IsAnybodyDown.
Brittain also responds to the above, regarding Craig’s constantly-evolving claims about who operated his extortionate “Takedown Hammer” websites:
I had nothing to do with any “takedown” services, with the exception of negotiated settlements through dmca.com. The domains which I owned associated in this manner were simply redirects to dmca.com’s settlement service. Via a 301 redirect, the domain will initially ping the host server (custom redirect on what was the IAD server) and then redirect to the target server. This will display the host server’s IP as the IP, even if the actual content is hosted on the target server. This is purposefully and willfully obfuscated by my detractors to smokescreen the average person with no technical skills. When you hear “David Blade, Takedown Lawyer, Takedown Hammer, etc.” they’re really talking about the dmca.com redirect. All of these things are the same thing – the legal responsibility of the host server owner (not me) and the third party service (I have no affiliation with either).
First, this yet again contradicts what Brittain said on Monday — that the “takedown” websites weren’t hosted by him at all, but that he simply registered the domains and pointed them to DMCA.com via DNS. DNS is the tool by which requests for a domain name (like Google.com) are translated into the IP address where that website is hosted.
Second, 301 redirects, on the other hand, send a visitor from that website to another address altogether. So, had 301 redirects been used to redirect visitors from TakedownLawyer.com to a site operated by DMCA.com, that transition would have been apparent, as visitors could tell that the URL had changed. That’s not what happened when people visited TakedownLawyer.com. Moreover, why would an established company like DMCA.com start a new venture and have Craig Brittain of all people register the domain and direct it to their own website?
Third, after sharing Brittain’s statement with DMCA.com, I spoke with the company’s CEO, Che Pinkerton. Asked whether DMCA.com had ever worked with Brittain, “David Blade,” or either of the “takedown” sites, Pinkerton was unequivocal. “Absolutely no way, under any circumstances whatsoever. I have no idea what he’s talking about.” Pinkerton noted that he was “familiar with [IsAnybodyDown] only because many of our clients were his victims”, as DMCA.com assists people in issuing copyright takedown notices. Even had Brittain redirected visitors to a DMCA.com page without the company’s involvement, none of the company’s customers had ever indicated that they’d been referred to DMCA.com through Brittain’s websites.
Pinkerton added that DMCA.com was “ecstatic about the FTC decision on behalf of our many clients who have been victims of this guy… The sooner we don’t have to deal with this any longer, the better.”
Brittain, no doubt, will find some reason to change his story again, or claim that DMCA.com is lying (or, more likely, that I’m lying), or that DMCA.com has some reason to lie about him (even though Brittain has said that all of this was completely legal). I’m done with his rabbit holes. There is no way Brittain’s “David Blade” was anything less than a tool for Brittain to extort his victims and he made a good deal of money doing it. If he’s not to face charges, he should pay his victims back, and I intend to ask the FTC to rescind its consent agreement, no matter how unlikely that is.
- The only other ‘advertisers’ on the site were Brittain’s partner, Chance Trahan, and their side projects ↩
- For what it’s worth, I was able to confirm that Brittain and the “Takedown Hammer” were sending emails from the same Colorado Springs IP address using the same obscure email program, DreamMail 126.96.36.199. These emails are independent of those sent to Randazza and White. The headers are here. ↩
- This would also contradict Brittain’s prior claim that Blade paid Craig a “flat, fixed fee for hosting and advertising[.]” ↩
- To be fair, Brittain could claim that when TakedownHammer.com later shifted to Cloudflare — thereby masking its true IP address — that’s when the site was hosted on DMCA.com. But given that this transition took place on March 9, 2013, within a month Brittain of ending his revenge porn site, this is unlikely. ↩
- Beginning August 6, 2012, TakedownLawyer.com was hosted at 188.8.131.52, an IP address assigned to Voxility in Romania. After ‘discontinuing’ the TakedownLawyer.com website, Brittain opened TakedownHammer.com. On November 1, 2012, TakedownHammer.com was hosted at the same IP address. Two days later, Trolldown.com — a site registered to and used by Craig Brittain — was hosted at the same IP address. Both sites continued to be hosted at the same IP address until March 9, 2013, when both were moved to Cloudflare. ↩