Revenge Porn: Laws & Penalties

Related Ads

Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Enter Your Zip Code to Connect with a Lawyer Serving Your Area

searchbox small

Currently, revenge porn – the online posting of explicit photos of people without their permission, usually by exes – is a legal gray area in most states. Advocates for victims argue that revenge porn is a form of harassment and an invasion of privacy and should be criminalized. However, in most states, revenge porn (at least where adults are concerned) is not a crime. But the legal landscape is changing and states may be moving towards criminalizing revenge porn. (To read about the legislative debate over revenge porn laws, see "Revenge Porn": Illegal?)

Revenge Porn Websites

Revenge porn sites feature nude and sexual photos of people, mostly women, often posted by their ex-lovers. A number of different websites host these images. Many sites include identifying details, such as the person’s full name, employer, and hometown, as well as links to the person’s Facebook or other personal webpages, and nasty comments. Although some revenge porn sites have been shut down, new sites pop up all the time. Images can also be easily picked up by other websites, and content that is widely distributed on the Internet is difficult to remove. So, even if a person succeeds in getting images removed from one site, it may be difficult or impossible to get them completely off the Internet.

Isn’t That Illegal?

In most states, it is not a crime to post people’s photos or personal information online without their permission. However, some prosecutors have used laws against distributing pornography to go after people who commit revenge porn.

Targeted Legislation

Some states are starting to criminalize revenge porn, or are using existing laws to prosecute people who commit revenge porn. For example, New Jersey’s invasion of privacy law, enacted in 2003 (before revenge porn came to national attention), prohibits selling, providing, publishing, distributing, or otherwise disseminating nude or sexual photos of another person without that person’s permission. This law has been considered a model by advocates of criminalizing revenge porn.

California lawmakers recently amended the state’s disorderly conduct law to criminalize some forms of revenge porn (SB 255). Under the new law, it is a crime to photograph or otherwise take private, nude photos of another person and distribute the photos in a way that is intended to and does cause emotional distress; and revenge porn is punished more severely if the victim is a minor or if the defendant has previously been convicted. Critics have charged that the California law does not go far enough in helping victims, because it does not protect them from subsequent distribution of sexual self-portraits. Wisconsin, Georgia, and Florida have also considered legislation criminalizing revenge porn, although none of these states have passed such a law yet.

(Cal. Pen. Code, § 647; N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:14-9.)

Other Criminal Laws

In some states, it is a crime, often a kind of disorderly conduct, to take nude photos of people without their knowledge. However, while images that end up on revenge porn sites were almost certainly originally intended to be private, often the women themselves took photos and shared them willingly, or the partners took the photos with the women’s permission.

For more information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see our article on Disorderly Conduct.

Harassment is also illegal and, in many states, a crime. However, harassment laws generally prohibit a course of conduct, not isolated incidents, so harassment laws do not apply in many revenge porn cases.

For more information on online harassment, see our article on Harassment and Cyberbullying and Avoiding Criminal Charges from Online Behavior.

Child Pornography

While sharing naked photos of adults without their permission is not necessarily illegal, sharing any nude or sexual images of children under the age of 18 is considered child pornography. People who share such images can expect to be prosecuted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and ordered to register as sex offenders.

For more information on sharing child pornography, see Teen Sexting.

Criminal Penalties

In New Jersey, sharing explicit images without permission is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. Under California’s new law, revenge porn is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If the victim is under the age of 18 or the defendant has a previous conviction for revenge porn, then the crime is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

(Cal. Pen. Code, § 647; N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:14-9.)

Civil Liability

Victims of revenge porn have filed civil suits against the people who have posted their private images and the sites that have published the images, based on claims of copyright infringement and invasion of privacy. However, under section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, owners and operators of websites are generally not held responsible for material posted by others on their sites. The law in this area may be changing as well to provide more protection for victims. In 2011, one federal district court held that section 230 did not apply to sites that invite the “posting of illegal materials.” (Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment Recordings LLC, 766 F. Supp.2d 828, 836 (E.D. Kentucky 2011).) So, in the future, civil suits by victims of revenge porn may be more successful.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with a crime as a result of revenge porn, you should talk a criminal defense attorney in your state. An attorney can tell you how your case is likely to be treated and what you can do to protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome. If you are a victim of revenge porn, you may also wish to talk to a civil attorney who can help you get the photos removed from the Internet and possibly take other legal action. Also, consider contacting local law enforcement. California's Attorney General, for example, asks that victims of revenge porn websites file a complaint at https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.

Talk to a Defense Lawyer

Charged with a crime? Start here to find a lawyer.
HOW IT WORKS
how it works 1
Briefly tell us about your case
how it works 2
Provide your contact information
how it works 1
Connect with local attorneys
LA-NOLO6:DRU.1.6.3.6.20141124.29342