Revenge Porn Now a Crime in California

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Governor Brown signed a new kind of state law– one which  criminalizes “revenge porn” (distribution of private, explicit photos of  people on the Internet, usually by ex-lovers or spouses, to humiliate and/or harass them).  The new law passed both houses of the state legislature almost unanimously last month.  It makes it a misdemeanor for people to circulate explicit pictures online with the intent to harass or annoy the victim.  A conviction is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for a first offense.

The Governor signed the measure into law late on Tuesday, October 2, 2013 as “urgency legislation”.  It goes into effect immediately. The law targets the increasingly common act of people posting nude or otherwise explicit pictures of a former romantic partner online as a form of revenge after a messy breakup. The pictures often end up “going viral” on “revenge porn” websites that delight in promoting such pictures.  Some of sites actually engage in a form of extortion, by charging the subject of the photos money to remove the offending material. Up to now, the only recourse victims have had was to sue, an unpleasant prospect at best.

California law already prohibited taking explicit photos of a person without their knowledge and consent.  The new law extends the same misdemeanor classification to anyone who takes nude pictures of a person under the mutual understanding that those images are to remain private, but then distributes the images (without permission) in order to cause the subject emotional distress.

The new law does not target revenge porn sites. Operators of such websites, and their users, are generally immune from liability for the content furnished to those sites by others.  But the new law criminalizes the act of furnishing the content.

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