Archive for Involuntary Porn

Tell the FTC: Craig Brittain Should Not Get a Slap on the Wrist for his Revenge Porn Site

Last month, the FTC announced it intends to enter into a consent agreement with Craig Brittain, the operator of revenge porn site “Is Anybody Down?”  Brittain pretended to be a woman on Craigslist to deceive women into sending him nude photos, mocked their pleas to remove the photos, then concocted an ‘independent’ but fake lawyer — “David Blade III” the “takedown hammer” — to extort them into paying $250 to remove the photos.

Since then, Brittain had the chutzpah to try to use copyright law — the same law he claimed didn’t apply to him — to try to get Google to delete references to the proposed settlement.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Brittain should not be allowed to walk away with extortionate profits, and should instead be required to pay his victims back.  Britain claimed to be making upwards of $4,000 per month from his site.  He has since claimed that the FTC declined to impose financial penalties because he was able to prove that he wasn’t making money from the site and that he is too impoverished to make payments.  Yet Brittain also claims to be making “six figures” annually and claims to have recently purchased a luxury BMW to support Gamergate (somehow).  Brittain is lying either to the FTC or to the public.
  3. 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.
  4. The evidence against Brittain is devastating.  From the Craigslist catfishing to the “David Blade” extortion scam, the public evidence against Brittain is overwhelming.  With little effort, the FTC could seek PayPal and banking records which would likely establish, beyond any standard required by law, that Brittain was the recipient of extortionate payments made to “David Blade”, the “takedown lawyer.”  Brittain’s story is impossibly contradictory and continues to unravel.
  5. 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.

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Hunter Moore Takes Plea Deal, Will Go To Prison

Hunter Moore, the infamous involuntary porn kingpin who was facing trial in March, has agreed to plead guilty two felony charges: one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(c)) and one count of aggravated identity theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1).)

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.

Moore’s plea deal comes less than a month after YouGotPosted proprietor Kevin Bollaert was convicted on numerous extortion and identity theft charges and IsAnybodyDown operator Craig Brittain submitted to sanctions by the Federal Trade Commission for his conduct in deceiving people into sending him nude photos and subsequently charging for their removal.  A third operator, Casey Meyering, will shortly be tried on extortion charges for deploying a scheme identical to Brittain’s.  In one month, approximately half of the operators of dedicated revenge porn sites have been sanctioned, convicted, or are likely to be convicted.  Stunning.

Hunter Moore plea deal

Kevin Bollaert Convicted of Extortion in YouGotPosted/ChangeMyReputation Case

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.

This is the first conviction — anywhere — of a revenge porn site owner.  Casey Meyering, another site owner with a scheme identical to that of Craig Brittain, who reached a settlement with the FTC last week, also faces trial in California on extortion charges.  Hunter Moore, the progenitor of so-called “revenge porn” sites, faces trial in March for alleged violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  None, including Bollaert, have been charged under California’s “revenge porn” statute, which was both (1) passed after Bollaert’s arrest; and (2) is inapplicable to the people running revenge porn sites by operation of CDA § 230.

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.”

Please forgive this moment of schadenfreude: 2

babe_ruth

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.

 

Notes:

  1. I don’t know whether law enforcement relied on my research in targeting Bolleart.  I can only hope.
  2. 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.

Craig Brittain Settles With FTC Over Revenge Porn Site “IsAnybodyDown”, “David Blade” Story Changes (Again)

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.

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Australian Court Awards $48,000 in Involuntary Porn Case

From the southern hemisphere comes a judgment against an Australian for $48,404 and injunctive relief in an involuntary (or “revenge”) porn case, Wilson v. Ferguson.

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The Tale of WePay and Revenge Porn Extortionists

Upon request, in light of WePay’s recent apparent termination of an adult actor’s efforts to fundraise for her medical bills (because porn!), here’s the story of WePay and revenge porn extortionists.

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Revenge Porn Site MyEx.com Sued For Copyright Infringement

Revenge porn site MyEx.com, along with Google and Yahoo!, has been sued for copyright infringement in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.  The complaint is below.  ((Although the plaintiff in this action has previously sued the now-defunct website Texxxan and is publicly known, I redacted her name from the complaint because her photos continue to be accessible on MyEx.com and appear to have been posted in retaliation for having sued Texxxan.))

MyEx.com is one of few remaining websites dedicated to so-called “revenge porn,” and is likely the largest website of its kind, hosting the nude photos of upwards of 6,000 men and women.  It has been the subject of increasing media attention and peripheral legal action, although the site itself has never been sued.  This week, a former NFL player was sued by his ex-wife, who alleged that he posted her nude photos to MyEx.com. Previously, a teacher at a Christian school lost her job after being posted on MyEx — and was later charged with filing a false police report in connection with the posting.

MyEx is purportedly operated by “Web Solutions, B.V.,” a company in the Netherlands that does not exist.  Rather, the site was created and continues to be operated by Americans in coordination with persons in the Philippines.

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Hunter Moore Pleads Not Guilty; Meet His Co-Defendant, Charlie “Gary” Evens

Hunter Moore, the so-called “revenge porn” progenitor, made his second court appearance on charges that he hired co-defendant Charles “Gary” Evens to access email accounts of five women in order to find and post their nude photos on his now-defunct website, IsAnyoneUp?

Hunter Moore's attorney, Robert Holley

Moore’s attorney, Robert Holley

With his parents in tow, Moore was arraigned on and sheepishly plead not-guilty to fifteen counts of violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030 (unauthorized access to a protected computer, popularly referred to as ‘hacking’), 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (aggravated identity theft), 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy), and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (aiding and abetting).  His co-defendant, Charles Robert Evens, entered a not-guilty plea in January and was released on $60,000 bond.

In attendance at Moore’s arraignment was Dr. Charlotte Laws, widely credited with amassing the evidence and public pressure on law enforcement to act.

At his initial appearance in January, Moore was ordered to assist Federal agents in shutting down his online accounts and websites.  Moore is prohibited from having access to the internet, a computer, or a cell phone.  Moore was released from custody in January after posting a $100,000 unsecured appearance bond — that is, he and his parents have agreed to pay the government $100,000 if Moore skips town.

After the hearing, I waited outside for Moore, along with a camera crew from Inside Edition.  When Moore spotted us, he sprinted away, holding his backwards hat down, while his lawyer laughed.

Who is Charlie “Gary” Evens?

Charlie

Moore’s co-defendant, Charlie “Gary” Evens

Little is known about Moore’s co-defendant, Charlie Evens.  What is known paints a picture that contrasts greatly with Moore.  Where Moore welcomed his status as an internet villain, Evens is a more sympathetic defendant — although that’s not difficult.

A resident of the Los Angeles area and 2006 graduate of Notre Dame High School, he was a “skipper” on Disneyland’s jungle cruise ride before working for Deluxe Entertainment Studios as a Digital Asset Manager.  On the side, Evens produced and hosted a short-lived live comedy show (the creatively-named “Charlies’ Comedy Show“) featuring moderately well-known comedians.

Evens was convicted of driving under the influence in 2012 and remains on probation.

In May 2012, the Village Voice described in detail allegations that a “Gary Jones” was using social engineering tactics to access email accounts, and that Hunter Moore would post nude photos from those accounts.  “Gary,” in a moment of empathy and self-pity, apologized to one victim and told her that he had just been arrested for his “3rd DUI” and was struggling with sobriety.  The email address disclosed in the Village Voice article appears to match that in the indictment against Moore and Evens.

Moore, responding to allegations that the sources of his nude catalog were more than just spurned ex-lovers, told the Village Voice:

“I’ve had tons of hackers give me shit,” he told me over the phone, insisting that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the same federal law that has shielded his site from prosecution all along, absolves him of legal responsibility. […] “It always comes back on the hacker. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve paid people for content. I don’t give a fuck. You can say that. If I’ve paid for content, they have to submit the same [way] as the user. It would all fall back on the user.”

The law Moore cited in his armchair lawyering, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, generally protects websites and their owners from liability for content submitted by users.  However, Section 230 is expressly inapplicable to Federal criminal law, and is not a license-by-virtue-of-website to commit any criminal act under the sun.

The trial of Evens is scheduled to begin on March 25 before the Hon. Dolly M. Gee. There was some confusion over the date of Moore’s trial, but was tentatively set for April 8.  I plan to attend and report from the trial.  Moore has retained Robert M. Holley and Evens is represented by a Federal public defender. The public documents in the case are available here and here.

Revenge Porn Kingpin Hunter Moore Indicted on Federal Hacking Charges

According to this report from TIME Magazine’s Jessica K. Roy (who previously worked the revenge porn beat for Betabeat), revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore has been indicted in connection with Federal hacking charges. The indictment reportedly includes 15 counts and also charges an alleged associate of Moore (Charles Evans), is reportedly in the Federal District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles.  (I live a few blocks from the courthouse, so I’ll be attending any hearings in the matter.)

Moore has long been the subject of an FBI investigation concerning his hacking.  In previous tweets to me, Moore claimed to have been raided “6 times” in a since-deleted tweet.

The Los Angeles courthouse may be unfamiliar to Moore, but he’s previously been held in contempt by a judge there in a civil case, and owes over $300,000 in default judgments relating to his online activity.

Moore was due to DJ this weekend at Dim Mak Studios, a Los Angeles club.  Previous appearances at clubs around the country were cancelled due to protests.

Moore’s indictment is not yet on PACER, the public access website for federal court filings.

Update: The indictment (below) alleges that Moore told Evens, who he knew to be accessing e-mail accounts  (without authorization of the owner) to acquire nude photos, to “hack more” and “hack all week for me.”  Moore then paid Evens via PayPal and wire transfers, ostensibly for the photos.

Revenge Porn – Moore-Evens Indictment

Kevin Bollaert, Operator of Revenge Porn Site YouGotPosted Arrested, Charged With Extortion

The California Attorney General’s office today announced that Kevin Bollaert, one of the operators of now-defunct revenge porn site YouGotPosted, was arrested and charged in a San Diego state court with thirty-one felony counts of identity theft and extortion.  The complaint is here, but the arrest warrant contains much greater detail linking Bollaert to the site and its extortionate companion, “ChangeMyReputation.com”.  I wrote in some detail about the ties between Bollaert, YouGotPosted, and the “independent takedown” website “ChangeMyReputation” last December.

These are first criminal charges filed against the operator of a revenge porn site in the United States.  On first blush, although criminal law is by no means my forte, the complaint against Bollaert will be difficult to sustain: the Communications Decency Act bars certain state-level criminal charges against the operators of a website, assuming the identity theft charges treat Bollaert as the speaker (as opposed to the persons who provided the nude photos to him).  Whether the extortion charges are barred by the CDA is a more complicated question.

Notably, the complaint repeatedly references a co-conspirator, and the arrest warrant notes that the site’s other proprietor, Eric Chanson, asked that Bollaert not associate Chanson’s name with the site in July of 2013.  In August, Chanson told a Federal court that he had sold his share in the YouGotPosted enterprise to Bollaert in March. I am unaware of any information publicly available in July 2013 that would tie Chanson to the site, so it’s unclear why he would send such an email unless he were still somehow involved.

This is only the summit of Bollaert’s legal woes.  In September, Bollaert and his company, Blue Mist Media, were hit with a $300,000 default judgment by a Federal court in Michigan.

More on this story as it develops and I have time to analyze the complaint against Bollaert.