This Law Protects Sharing Hacked Celebrity Pics

Spreading stolen explicit pictures of people is repugnant, but it's not currently illegal under U.S. law.
Posted at 7:06 PM, Sep 01, 2014

​Hollywood was rocked this weekend by the leak of risqué private photographs of some of America's biggest celebrities.

"Celebrities targeted in the leak include Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Victoria Justice, Ariana Grande, Kirsten Dunst and more."

Obviously, the celebrities are upset — and are trying to fight back with the law.

CHANNEL 5: “They say this is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen, they say, photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”

KTNV"Her attorney saying they "intend to pursue anyone disseminating or duplicating these illegally obtained images to the fullest extent possible."

It sounds pretty scary — but it hasn't stopped the photos from spreading across the Internet.

Because even though sharing the photos is repugnant, the people doing it are protected by the U.S. government.

Specifically, a 1996 law called the Communications Decency Act, which in section 230 says "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 

What does that mean? It means a website can't be held responsible for content on its site posted by other people. So although the hackers themselves can be sued, the intermediaries between the hackers and millions of online viewers will never see a day in court.

The law’s current role — protecting the sharers of illegally-obtained sexual imagery — is ironic, considering the original intent was to incentivize webmasters to regulate their content.

But it doesn’t mean the Communications Decency Act is going anywhere. Vox explains: “When you start saying that the Communications Decency Act needs to be changed, then you bring in all of the vested interests and the free speech advocates, the Googles.

So what can a celebrity do? They could ask Google to hide the results — only good luck, because it typically takes the company weeks to respond. And when it does, it’ll ask if the photos are copyrighted — which, in this case, they might not be.

Another is to criminalize the distribution of stolen photographs. Here, states have taken the lead — and some are having some success.

The problem is that these trials take months or years, and in the meantime the photos stay online. The situation reflects a simple fact about the modern Internet — once information is out of the bottle, it’s impossible to put back in.

This video includes an image from Getty Images / Vittorio Zunino Celotto.