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What Web Hosts Can Do About Revenge Porn

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While it can be nearly impossible to remove video and images permanently from the internet, web hosts may at least have some power to curb one of the internet’s most disturbing practices: revenge porn.

Revenge porn often comprises compromising video clips and photos taken by callous exes, supposedly as “revenge” for their failed relationships, but it can take the form of media stolen from hacked accounts and hidden cameras. Another key element of revenge porn is finding out the identity of those in the media and alerting family, friends, employers and other community members to their existence.

Web hosts who may unknowingly be hosting such material could be held accountable. For instance, a class action lawsuit was waged against a revenge porn site called “Texxxan.com” as well as its web host, GoDaddy, for invasion of privacy and other allegations. This serves to highlight the seriousness of the problem.

After private photos of her daughter were leaked to the website IsAnyoneUp.com, Charlotte Laws spurred an FBI investigation into the site’s owner, Hunter Moore. In trying to stop her daughter’s image from appearing online, Laws contacted Jeffrey Lyon, president of Black Lotus, which provided security services for Moore’s site.

Using DMCA Requests to Takedown Revenge Porn

Since the copyright for a photo by default belongs to whomever took the photo, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the mechanism that allowed Laws to request the takedown of the photos.

The DMCA requires online publishers to take down copyrighted works at the request of copyright holders. Of course, it’s not unusual for revenge porn sites owner to disregard DMCA takedown requests. In such cases, one can go above their heads by providing the site’s upstream providers with takedown requests.

When Laws’ attorney served Black Lotus with a DMCA complaint, Black Lotus was able to block the content in its proxy, essentially making the content inaccessible – at least mostly.

“Blocking the content was effective because it was made very clear to our customer that any attempt to circumvent this measure would result in termination of service,” says Lyon. “I am told that the content eventually found its way to other sites hosted outside of Black Lotus, but this is unfortunately outside our control.”

Despite its flaws, those trying to control the spread of photos they took should issue DMCA takedown notices to sites showing the image, as well as to Google, whose search index provides an easy way to find this media. There are even services such as DMCA.com that will send notices for a fee. Service providers usually need to see a DMCA request in order to block or remove a client’s media.

One of the issues someone might run into is that finding the owner of the website can be difficult. Lyon recommends using a DNS lookup to get an IP that can be searched via WHOIS where you will may be able to find contact information for the host. The host’s upstream carriers may be found by inputting the IP address into the Hurricane Electric BGP Toolkit.

While it’s important for individuals to act quickly to contact hosts and upstream providers, there’s not mandated rush for them to comply. Internet lawyer David Snead says, “Companies are required under the DMCA to act ‘expeditiously’ to remove the content, and courts in the US have not defined the term ‘expeditious’. So, companies are free to set the time periods they want.”

Lyon notes, however, “A responsible operator will take action on the DMCA promptly, within a day in my opinion. DMCA requests should also be prioritized. I would respond to a revenge porn DMCA before responding to a replica handbag DMCA. If it becomes clear the host is not taking the request seriously it may be necessary to hire an attorney to send a request by mail or recommend more substantial action.”

Snead notes that upstream providers have to be careful that taking down copyrighted content doesn’t affect media that shares a hosting service such as a server. Taking down one image without the cooperation of the website could mean taking down the entire site and possibly others.

Is Taking Photos and Video Offline Really the Answer?

Opinion on Moore is divided between holding the distinction of “most hated man on the internet” and being an adored, rockstar-like playboy as he was described, appropriately enough, in a Rolling Stone profile.

Perhaps unwittingly, Moore exposes the double standard whereby he can post explicit images of himself engaged in sexual acts with impunity, while the women exposed on revenge porn sites are liable to lose their jobs, have partners leave them, and be alienated from their family, friends and community.

Those involved in the publishing of online material have a responsibility to remember that some material can have disastrous consequences for those involved. But as digital media becomes more ubiquitous, there’s also the responsibility for employers and spouses, friends and family not to blame the victims of revenge porn.

Some say that never taking explicit photos is the answer – that they can stop it from happening at the source. Others argue that people have a right to take private explicit photos, and it could be hard to stop images from being taken surreptitiously.

Given the realities, some forgiveness and understanding might form the best antidote.

But until society becomes more accepting of the odd nude selfie or stolen sex tape, the quick action of web hosts might be the best hope for victims of revenge porn.

About the Author

David Hamilton is a Toronto-based technology journalist who has written for the National Post and other news outlets. He has covered the hosting industry internationally for the Web Host Industry Review with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. David is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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2 Comments

  1. markwelch

    Strange, all the links in this article are redirected to an Outlook web-app page, via connect.emailsrvr.com/owa/redir.aspx (etc)

    Reply
    • Nicole Henderson

      Hey Mark, That is odd. Thanks for catching that. I've fixed the links now.

      Reply