Vail Daily column: Love in the time of the Internet
“What’s love got to do, got to do with it?”
— Terry Britten and Graham Hamilton Lyle
Well, nothing, I suppose, but, perhaps it starts with love. Or something that feels like it anyway.
When I was a young man — in the days before the Internet — about as bad as things got was a voodoo doll. Now, when hearts are broken, rather than the well-place pin, sometimes there is placed (if not well-placed) porn.
What, exactly, am I talking about?
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It’s this: revenge porn. And if you haven’t yet heard the term, I assure you that you will.
Revenge porn goes something like this. Boy meets girl. The two of them are smitten. After a time, they become cozy. At some point, intimate photographs are taken. One day the relationship goes south. Boy’s heart is broken. But rather than pine over his broken heart, he seeks revenge. He posts (or sells) girl’s private photos for the whole world to see, sometimes with her name, address and telephone number. “Take this! If I can’t have you, then I will humiliate you!”
Then think again. This has sadly become epidemic.
So what’s law got to do, got to do with it?
The tension is this; on the one hand, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free expression. But on the other, aw, c’mon! The Fourth Amendment has been interpreted to ensure a right to privacy which some folks argue trumps the right to say (or display) what’s on your mind. Others argue, “Hey, if I took the photos (with consent) or they were given to me, then isn’t it my property? And don’t I have the right to publish my own photographs?”
Several states have begun to take action. Virginia has a new revenge porn law which it styles as “unlawful dissemination of an image.” Arizona is wrasslin’ with its own law which is tied up in a lawsuit. In Florida, a revenge porn law is headed to the governor for signature. Pennsylvania has a revenge porn law it is trying to expand. There are now 17 states with revenge porn laws, most of them making the dissemination of intimate images without consent a class 1 misdemeanor. Facebook, Twitter and Reddit recently banned nonconsensual sexual images and videos. Federal legislation criminalizing revenge porn is expected to be introduced this year.
Have an image in your head of what a guy who’d do this looks like? Is that image of a 6-foot-3, 255-pound fellow with a handsome countenance and an NFL physique? When New York Jets linebacker Jermaine Cunningham appears in a New Jersey courtroom, he’ll be the most recognizable defendant yet facing charges over revenge porn.
In a recent, particularly notorious case, the purveyor of a revenge porn site paid a hacker to hack into strangers’ computers trolling for intimate pics to throw up on his website.
Not only are there criminal laws established or a’brewin’, but in at least some circumstances, violated former lovers are suing. In Texas, “M.T.,” a 23-year-old sued her ex-boyfriend for nude images of her she sent to him when she was 18 and which he assured her were “for his eyes only.” Some suits have expanded to include not only the jilted lover, but the site that posts the images and even the site “host.”
There is an apocryphal tale of at least one woman attempting to copy write her own nude images to set up an infringement lawsuit if her images are purloined.
LAW TRYING TO CATCH UP
Beside the simple “creep” factor — who does something like that!? — as in many things “tech” which are galloping at a “Moore’s Law” rate, the law is struggling to catch up. While the ACLU and others are screaming “First Amendment!” and others hold “aren’t there enough laws!?” Those who have been violated by this kind of violation of privacy and decency demand with an increasing united voice that it should and must be prohibited.
Perhaps the distinguished former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart framed it best. When dealing with an obscenity case in 1964, he famously said, “I know it when I see it.”
Revenge porn just doesn’t meet the smell test. Expect the law, increasingly, to deal with it. And, girls, consider this from “M.T.” — the girl in Texas — “You don’t want to really think that five years down the line, your boyfriend at the time could be your not-boyfriend and do something really bad to you.” And this from Rabbi Harold Kushner, sometimes bad things happen to good people.
Depend on the law to catch up? Yes. But self-protection goes a long way too.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.