A cybercrime is a crime committed using the Internet. The crime may occur between two strangers or those involved in a relationship. Many cybercrimes include hacking into work databases or personal accounts.  However, they can also involve information that was freely given initially, but then was misused.

What Is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn is the sharing of intimate images of an individual without the subject’s consent. These images are often shared through revenge websites.

Revenge porn is most likely to occur during or after an intimate relationship.  During their relationship, the couple exchanges photographs or even videos, often via text messaging or email. The images are generally of the partner while they are naked and/or in a sexual position. When the relationship ends, one partner either uses those images as ransom or posts them online as an act of revenge, hence the term “revenge porn.”

Is Revenge Porn Illegal?

Many states have started passing legislation to criminalize revenge porn. Over half the states have passed laws explicitly banning revenge porn. These states are:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey,  New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Most states require malicious intent – that is, the defendant must have intended to harass or harm the victim. This intent requirement leaves out a large number of actors. Websites that host revenge porn do so for profit, paparazzi post nude photos and videos of celebrities for fame, and many others share images for entertainment alone. Many revenge porn statutes would not cover these types of pornography posting. 

Additionally, many of these states also require that the defendant be in a relationship or ex-relation with the victim. Again, actors who post these videos for profit, fame, or entertainment would not be prosecuted under these state statutes, since they were never in a relationship with the victims.  

What is the Punishment for Revenge Porn?

Most states classify revenge porn as misdemeanors. For example, in California, the penalty for a guilty verdict on revenge porn is six months in jail and a $1000 fine, at most. If the revenge pornography is of a minor and the defendant is convicted of distributing child pornography (which is a felony), he or she may be required to register as a sex offender.

In a civil suit, where the victim sues the defendant, the victim can seek a restraining or a take-down order, as well as money damages. The victim can ask for damages based on intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as any actual pain and suffering, especially if the victim has any measurable losses, such as the loss of his or her job. 

The take-down order would be to remove the offending material from the internet and the restraining order would prohibit the defendant from posting the images or video again. Due to the nature of the internet though, enforcing a take-down order might be difficult because anonymous third-parties can always save the image or videos and post them on another website. For this reason, speed is of the essence when dealing with revenge porn. 

What If My State Doesn’t Ban Revenge Porn? 

States without revenge porn statutes can still bring other criminal charges, depending on the laws of the state and the facts of the case. Alternative charges for revenge porn may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Disorderly conduct - Nude images taken without a person’s knowledge or permission can be considered disorderly conduct.
  • Distributing and possessing child pornography – If the subject of the video or image is a minor, the defendant can be charged with distributing child pornography. High school students who exchange sexts of their boyfriends or girlfriends may be charged with possession of child pornography.

Can I Sue for Revenge Porn?

Yes, although there may be different claims depending on the laws of your state and the facts of the case. Suing for distributing revenge porn is a tricky endeavor because revenge porn is a 21st century problem that the law hasn’t caught up with yet. The best solution would be for a state to pass an anti-revenge porn law that allows victims to sue defendants. In the absence of such laws though, these claims are probably the best ones:  

  • Stalking/Harassment - The most common claim against revenge porn is harassment or stalking. However, harassment or stalking claims often face uphill legal battles; these claims usually involve a pattern of behavior, but revenge porn is often a one-time post by the defendant.
  • Invasion of privacy – If state law establishes “disclosure of confidential information” as a form of invasion of privacy, then revenge porn would be considered an invasion of privacy. Nudity is almost always considered confidential, so sharing it with the world without consent would be a massive violation of privacy.  
  • Defamation - Defamation involves publicly making false statements about another person. Defamation is a challenging claim to make about revenge porn because revenge porn doesn’t make false statements about the victim; rather, too much about the victim is revealed.
  • Misappropriation – Misappropriation is when a person misuses property for an unauthorized purpose. Depending on the exact law, misappropriation might be a proper claim. In some states though, misappropriation is only an acceptable claim if the unauthorized use was for personal profit rather than revenge or malicious behavior. 
  • Copyright Infringement – This creative claim involves threatening the websites that host revenge porn rather than the uploader. Since revenge porn is often selfies by the victim, the victim is the one who holds the copyright. Sending a demand letter to the host website may persuade them to take down the video, but there’s no guarantee that people who have already viewed the video hasn’t shared the video with others already. 

Can a Lawyer Help Me?

Revenge porn can be a serious problem or a serious allegation. Skilled criminal lawyers can determine whether any crimes have been broken and which legal defenses are appropriate. Personal injury lawyers can defend or bring lawsuits to recover money lost from revenge porn postings.