Maryland law professors and state legislators in silhouette at a press conference announcing a bill that would criminalize revenge porn in 2013.
Photo: AP

A California federal district court has awarded a woman, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, who claimed a man named David K. Elam II posted revenge porn of her online $6.45 million in damages. According to CNN Tech, Doe’s lawyers say it is the second-largest payout ever awared in a revenge porn case not involving a celebrity.

The case underscores how difficult and complicated it can be for victims of revenge porn, in which various sociopaths digitally distribute compromising photos often originally obtained consensually of women they believed have wronged them, per CNN. There remains no federal law against revenge porn, and though California is one of the states that have already passed their own laws criminalizing the practice, federal prosecutors dropped a case against Elam in 2014.

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In order to stop other sites from hosting the photos, according to CNN Doe resorted to copyrighting her breasts. That did result in some of the sites removing images of her. But the nature of the internet more or less ensures that the images are still lurking out there, which goes a long way to explain the hefty payout.

According to CNN, the verdict ultimately did include $450,000 in copyright infringement awards as well as extensive damages:

Doe was awarded $450,000 in damages because of copyright infringement. She also received $3 million in compensatory damages for emotional distress, and $3 million in punitive damages.

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There’s no mention of whether Elam’s legal team plans to appeal the ruling.

“We never relied on the outcome of the criminal action,” K&L Gates partner Seth Gold, who pursued the case under the firm’s Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, told CNN. “... Revenge porn is a very serious violation of someone’s rights and can lead to very serious injuries that are worthy of being redressed—and in a more general sense, people can not ignore the judicial process.”

According to the New York Times, federal authorities began investigating Elam in 2013, and while pursuing a case in 2016, had planned to introduce evidence showing he “harassed and stalked another former girlfriend online” in 2012. The federal case relied on charges of “stalking, aggravated identity theft and unauthorized access to the computer of the woman,” the Times reported, though it ultimately fell apart because current federal law would require prosecutors to prove Doe was partially responsible for the outcome by “creating the sexually explicit images in the first place and either sharing them with a former partner or storing them on a cellphone.”

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Federal prosecutors in California had previously nailed notorious “professional life ruiner” and revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore for running a site that posted nude images of individuals submitted by others and then charging the victims huge fees to take them down. But as Mic noted in 2014, Moore operated the site in accordance with federal laws that hold sites not responsible for user-generated content—a provision that makes sites like Reddit or Twitter possible. California law did not hold redistributors of revenge porn legally responsible, limiting the legal avenues available to charge him.

Moore was only taken down on federal charges he paid another individual to hack into another’s computer to obtain blackmail material. He was eventually sentenced to two and a half years in prison and three years of supervised release, according to the Washington Post.

[CNN, New York Times]

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