The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Man who made thousands posting women’s stolen nudes goes after news sites that posted pictures of him

A photo of Craig Brittain, which we *are* actually allowed to print, because its a mugshot from Colorado Springs police. (Courtesy CSPD/via the Colorado Springs Independent)
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Revenge-porn impresario Craig Brittain is learning the hard way that karma is a real witch.

Late last month, the Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint against Brittain in which the agency accused the Coloradan and his defunct site, Is Anybody Down, with unfair business practices. The site paid its bills by soliciting women’s nude photos on Craigslist and/or from their exes, publishing the photos without the women’s permission (and often with their names and phone numbers attached), and then charging fees of $200 to $500 to take the photos down.

[Read more: The government just took a huge step in the fight against revenge porn]

As part of the settlement, Brittain agreed to destroy the images he had and never operate a revenge porn site again. Anti-revenge-porn advocates saw the move as a huge win against their foes.

… but irony of ironies, Brittain himself now feels exposed.

On Feb. 9, Brittain filed a takedown request to Google, demanding that the search engine stop linking to nearly two dozen URLs — including a number of news articles, and files on the case from the FTC — because they used photos of him and information about him without his permission.

Of the 23 links he names, three are public records posted on government Web sites, and the balance are reported articles from major news sites or blogs. Only four contain a picture of Brittain that he appears to have taken himself; several others use a police booking photo from a 2003 incident. Ironically, Brittain also complains about media organizations stealing redacted pictures from Is Anybody Down — which stayed in business by stealing photos, itself.

Brittain has no actual legal grounds for the complaint, as Ars Technica, who first spotted the filing, explains. “In this instance,” writes David Kravets, “fair use and general First Amendment principles are on Google’s and the media’s side.” 

Don’t tell that to Brittain, though, who has long equated the moral ills of nonconsensual pornography with those of critical reporting — a warped narrative on exploitation and victimization that has gained a lot of ground in certain corners of the Internet these days.

“I strongly believe that the Mainstream Media uses revenge and shame narratives to exploit people and ruin their lives – not unlike what ‘Revenge Porn’ does,” he wrote in an open letter in late January. He goes on to argue that the media should be “held to the same standards as revenge porn sites,” because they also “display someone’s information in a way that portrays them in a negative light.”

Intriguingly, that echoes arguments made in 2012 by supporters of Michael Brutsch, who — under the handle Violentacrez — ran several popular child porn and “upskirting” forums on Reddit until a Gawker article outed him. And it sounds a lot like complaints made in September, when The Post published a story about John Menese, a trafficker of stolen celebrity nude photos. Menese complained that The Post had “violated” his privacy by reporting on information he himself had posted publicly online.

It’s symptomatic, perhaps, of the long-running cult of anonymity: the belief that you can do and post anything online, as long as you don’t do it under your name. (That was, incidentally, a key critique of the Violentacruz outing.) Or maybe it’s just a predictable result of human hypocrisy: Absolute free speech and Communications Decency are all well and good and principled — until it’s your privacy that’s in play.

As for Brittain, he’s learning the hard way that it’s really, really difficult to get an unauthorized photo taken down once somebody’s posted it online. For starters, he only technically owns the copyright to three photos, posted on four Web sites — you only own the copyright if you took the photo yourself. And to get Salon et al to take it down, he’ll have to hire a lawyer and prove he took it, among other things.

Even then, it’s been posted to 90 other sites. Welcome to the revenge porn victim’s dilemma! And good luck with that, buddy.

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