Lost to the Web: Legal Recourse for Leaked Pornography

Simply put, there is no way to completely remove an image or video from the Internet. This is true in both the technical sense and a legal sense. This is the tough reality that victims of leaked pornography face.

Technologically speaking, the sheer amount of effort and expense needed to locate every single copy of a piece of information, such as a photo, that has surfaced on the Internet and then remove it to prevent further distribution is simply incomprehensible. This is why companies such as Google, under pressure from European courts, have focused their attentions on trying to de-index objectionable material from their service. However, this is simply a Band-Aid for the issue as those who have saved the material to their hard drives can still spread it through other means.

At the most basic level, an offender who perpetrated a leak by breaking into an account would have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030). This act is more of an all-encompassing way to prosecute “hackers.” The offenders could also have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (18 U.S.C. § 2510-22), which addresses the interception of communication.

The events of a trial would most likely mirror the case of Cristopher Chaney, who “hacked” into the accounts of over fifty people, many of whom were associated with the entertainment industry. Chaney was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison along with $66,179 in restitution for a number of things including wiretapping and unauthorized access to protected computers. However his conviction did not stop the distribution of the pictures.

To stop distribution, copyright laws, such as the Digital Millennium Act, could be used as a way to bar further distribution of an image. Civil courts can be used to get an injunction against hosting websites but this presents problems such as the hurdles facing those trying to enforce injunctions on third parties; one example of this being online defamation cases. The legal precedent in this area can be spotty, with much debate over who owns the copyright to photos, the subject or the photographer. Examples of DMCA letters exist that can be used by victims to force websites to take down images.

Regardless of the charges that are brought forth against perpetrators and the websites that are forced to remove the images, the pictures have already been leaked. Unless the victim has the time and money to invest in finding the websites that have the images, it would be difficult to get all the publically available images taken down. Again, once they are out there, it is very unlikely they will ever go away.

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