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.
Revenge porn site YouGotPosted (also known as “ugotposted”) has been sued in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The complaint is here (hat-tip: Bullyville).
Notably, this is the first lawsuit targeting a revenge porn site that focuses on copyright. I think intellectual property claims present the best chance victims of revenge porn sites have in prevailing in civil cases against site owners.
While sites even as despicable as YouGotPosted might have a CDA Section 230 defense against tort claims (although I think that’s debatable), CDA 230 expressly exempts intellectual property rights claims (like copyright) from its protection against liability. That is, although under CDA 230 many sites have immunity from liability for tortuous content submitted by users, they don’t have immunity when it comes to copyright and trademark claims. Rather, they can attempt to argue that they are exempt from copyright liability by way of the DMCA’s safe harbor, but they’re screwed on this front, having not registered an agent to receive DMCA takedown notices (among other failings).
While this will be a case to watch, I doubt that the main operators of the site (Eric Chanson and Kevin Bollaert) will respond. They failed to respond (at least in court) to the trademark lawsuit filed against them by Bullyville/ViaView, and a default judgment in excess of $300,000 was issued against them. Chanson’s parents, however, are now asking the court in the Bullyville case to set aside the judgment, claiming they weren’t properly served and had no idea about the lawsuit until recently. (They also claim that they had no idea about their son’s revenge porn site until Bullyville offered to pay Eric and Kevin to shut down their site).
Though Chanson and Bollaert’s scumbaggery is well-established by virtue of their running a revenge porn site, I’m surprised this lawsuit made no mention of the extortionate “ChangeYourReputation” scam. The only way their site makes a profit (its advertising affiliate jumped ship following a tip from yours-truly — oops!) is by charging victims to have their pictures removed. That idea was ripped off of the “Takedown Hammer” scheme operated by Craig Brittain (and probably Chance Trahan) of “ObamaNudes.”
And this suit is probably a preview of what’s to come for Craig Brittain and Chance Trahan — who are more likely to fight any claims against them. (I’m not saying they’ll fight well — but they’ll fight.)
YouGotPosted.com is an involuntary porn site similar to IsAnybodyDown.com in more than its content: it’s taking a page from Craig Brittain’s playbook: they destroy your reputation by posting your nude photos, name, and hometown so that it’s easily found whenever someone Googles your name. And they’ll keep destroying your reputation — but here’s an advertisement for a company that will negotiate with them to get your photos taken down. For a fee.
Except that the ‘reputation’ or ‘takedown’ company isn’t exactly independent. It’s likely coordinated by the people posting those nude photos.