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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.