The FTC Takes a Stand on Revenge Porn

February 2, 2015

On Thursday, January 29, the FTC came to a settlement with Craig Brittain, the owner and operator of IsAnybodyDown.com, in their suit against him regarding deceptive business practices on his website. IsAnybodyDown.com was—the website was closed in April of 2013—a “revenge porn” website, where Brittain would post nude images of women and then offer to take the photographs down only if he was paid to do so. While several states now have criminal statutes against revenge porn, there is currently no federal law banning the practice, which is what makes the FTC’s case so important (California and New Jersey were the first states to enact revenge porn legislation, but Arizona and others have followed suit in recent years—click here for a breakdown of revenge porn laws by state).
The FTC was able to bring a case against Brittain because they claimed that both the way in which he gathered the photographs, and the process of soliciting payment to take the images down was deceptive. Brittain procured the photographs through several means, including posing as a woman on craigslist and offering to exchange nude images with other women, and by allowing users of the site to anonymously submit photos of others to be posted on the website. The FTC found that the site contained over 1,000 photos of individuals. In order to convince people to pay him to take the images down, Brittain created another business, which sent emails to the subjects of the photos offering the service of having the photo removed for between $200 and $500. Little did these people know that the money was going directly into the hands of the person responsible for the image being made publicly available in the first place. Brittain allegedly made $12,000 off the website before it was shut down.

The settlement reached by Brittain and the FTC requires Brittain to remove all nude images and personal information from the Internet for which he does not have explicit written consent from the subject of the photograph.

The settlement also requires Brittain to obtain written consent for any future nude images he posts on the Internet. The FTC asserts that under this settlement “this individual can never return to the so-called ‘revenge porn’ business.”
Proponents of criminal punishment for revenge porn site operators are lauding the settlement as a positive step in the journey to a federal ban on revenge porn. As one of these proponents, law professor Mary Anne Franks, stated in an article for Wired, “The ruling sends the strong message that the federal government is on the side of the victims and potential victims of this malicious conduct.” While this is an important step towards a possible federal law against revenge porn, the FTC was only able to bring a case against Brittain for deceptive business practices, so the effect of this settlement on revenge porn is questionable.
The FTC’s reaction to Brittain’s revenge porn website was also met with criticism. Free speech groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, are concerned that allowing the FTC broad authority to shut down websites containing nude photographs based on consent may run afoul of the First Amendment. Others assert that tighter regulation and control of the porn industry would protect women without an outright federal ban on these types of websites.
This case is the second time the federal government has gotten involved in a revenge porn issue. The first time was in 2014 when the FBI arrested the notorious revenge porn site operator, Hunter Moore, for hiring someone to hack into people’s email and gather nude images for his website, IsAnyoneUp.com.
Regardless of your opinion on revenge porn websites, the interaction between the federal government and these schemes deserves close attention in the coming years, as it is quite clear that the debate over their existence and the government’s role in policing them is far from settled.