Hunter Moore guilty plea: Revenge porn king pleads guilty to hacking, faces years in prison.

Hunter Moore Is Probably Going to Prison. How Scared Should Revenge Porn Kingpins Be?

Hunter Moore Is Probably Going to Prison. How Scared Should Revenge Porn Kingpins Be?

The Slatest
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Feb. 20 2015 11:46 AM

Hunter Moore Is Probably Going to Prison. How Scared Should Revenge Porn Kingpins Be?

Hunter Moore
Hunter Moore, creator of the website Is Anyone Up.

Creative Commons photo by aliceintheflowers/deviantart.com

It’s been a bad couple of months for revenge porn purveyors. Hunter Moore, the kingpin behind the notorious revenge porn site Is Anybody Up, pleaded guilty this week to a couple of federal hacking charges; he now faces up to seven years in prison. Craig Brittain, who ran the Hunter Moore copycat site Is Anybody Down, groveled before the Federal Trade Commission this month after the FTC accused Brittain of engaging in unfair business practices in running the site; he publicly apologized and vowed to exit the revenge porn business. Kevin Bollaert, the San Diego man behind revenge porn site U Got Posted, was convicted of two dozen felonies related to identity theft and extortion this month, and now awaits sentencing that could put him away for 20 years; Casey Meyering, who ran a site trafficking in nude photos called Win By State, will soon stand trial in California on similar charges.

The cluster of cases suggests that prosecutors across the country are suddenly getting serious about stopping revenge porn. But curiously, none of these guys were actually nabbed for running websites featuring nonconsensual sexual images. Extortion, identity theft, hacking—these are charges visited upon revenge porn operators who are even more blatantly nefarious than your average admin. Prosecutors took down Moore not because he created a platform for posting pics without the consent of the subject, but because he paid a hacker to actually steal the photos from various women. Brittain earned the FTC’s attentions after he posed as a woman online in an effort to solicit photographs from real women, which the FTC framed as a deceptive business practice. Bollaert and Meyering got busted for extortion after charging victims hundreds of dollars to remove their photos from their sites. So Moore may be going away for a while, but “the revenge porn operator who is not an idiot—he’s not engaging in criminal extortion or facilitating hacking—is still sitting pretty,” University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron told me. “The business model is still viable.”

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Distributing revenge porn is now expressly prohibited in more than a dozen states. Any regular Joe who posts or shares nonconsensual nude photos in California or New Jersey or Arizona now risks being locked up for a short stint. But the Communications Decency Act protects website owners from being held responsible for the content users post on their platforms, making it difficult for authorities to topple revenge porn’s biggest kingpins. Consider the crowd-sourced revenge porn emporium My Ex (tagline: “Get Revenge!”). “There’s nothing shy about that site,” Citron says. But right now, My Ex and sites like it “successfully straddle a legal gray line” by claiming that they’re simply providing a platform for the nonconsensual nude photos, not actually encouraging them. Revenge porn operators who want to slip further under the radar of the law can just “name their sites somewhat more innocuously” or solicit nude photos “in a more subtle way,” Citron says.

It may only be the stupidest revenge porn kings who are now ending up in court, but several of their cases point to new interpretations of the law that could help bring down more typical operators in the future. Brittain was the first revenge porn ringleader to be targeted by the FTC, and though he blatantly deceived some women into sending him photos of themselves, he also committed the more pedestrian offense of encouraging his site’s users to send him photos that had been sent to them in confidence. Writing in The Atlantic, Citron argues that Brittain’s case sets a valuable precedent because some of the charges against him rested on a new “theory of wrongdoing” in running a revenge porn site: “unfairly inducing individuals to betray another’s trust.” Meanwhile, in California, Bollaert and Meyering were prosecuted not just for extortion but for identity theft; the state argued that the photographs that appeared on their sites constituted private information that they'd exploited for financial gain. The recent cases brought by California and the FTC are essentially arguing that “information shared in confidential relationships deserves protection,” Citron writes. If the interpretation sticks, it will inject a bit of irony in the ongoing revenge porn saga: It wasn't the notorious Hunter Moore who killed revenge porn, but the copycat Craig Brittain.