Kevin Bollaert Gets 18 Years for Operating Revenge Porn Website

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 09, 2015 3:56 PM

An 18-year sentence for revenge porn? It's more likely than you think. Last week, the San Diego Superior Court sentenced 28-year-old Kevin Bollaert to 18 years in prison for operating a revenge porn website.

Well, sort of. Bollaert was also convicted of identity theft and extortion because he put photos on his website, then asked for between $250 and $350 from the women in the photos in exchange for taking the photos down.

Porn with a Healthy Dose of Extortion

In addition to extorting money out of women, he also encouraged users to share personal information about them, including their names and addresses. Internet trolls contacted the women's jobs, leading to some of them becoming homeless and being disowned by their families. The website garnered some 10,000 photos before it was closed in late 2013. According to USA Today, Bollaert made about $30,000 from his little business.

Bollaert's case isn't typical of revenge porn prosecutions, given the scope of the crimes and the explicit use of extortion, but Attorney General Kamala Harris hopes it nevertheless will serve to discourage the revenge porn business model and put others on notice that the state doesn't consider it a laughing matter.

In a separate civil action, one of Bollaert's victims obtained a default judgment for $450,000 against him, along with an additional $450,000 against Eric Chanson, with whom Bollaert created the website.

California's Revenge Porn Law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed California's revenge porn law in 2013. The law makes it a misdemeanor to distribute a nude photo of another, without the other's consent and with the intent to cause emotional distress, when the photo was taken with the understanding it was supposed to be private. The legislature later amended the law to include nude "selfies" that are similarly distributed without the owner's consent.

Revenge porn laws can be surprisingly controversial, though. The ACLU sued the State of Arizona last year for its revenge porn law, claiming the language was broad enough to encompass journalistically relevant photos like those from Abu Ghraib or the "Napalm Girl" photo from the Vietnam War. Unlike California's law, Arizona's didn't require dissemination with the intent to cause emotional distress and could also make negligent distribution as much of a crime as intentional distribution.

The nature of Bollaert's website wouldn't appear to give him the benefit of the Communications Decency Act's "safe harbor" provision, either. Normally, website operators use CDA section 230 to shield themselves from liability when third parties post on a website. The degree of Bollaert's involvement, however, would transform him into an "information content provider," especially since the website required users to post victims' personal information before uploading a photo.

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