Can You Really Remove Stuff From the Internet

In one case, the answer is probably.  If I want to delete one of my blog posts, I can probably do that.  But not if someone copied it.  Which I can’t control.  Then they can upload it again.  I can send a DCMA take-down notice to the hosting provider, which they might ignore if they are not in the U.S.  Even if they do take it down, someone can repost it someplace else.

And, while the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) gives strong protections to the owner of the copyright, you still have to know your stuff is online.  If the person doesn’t really want you to take it down, it is hard.

Which brings me to today’s story.

There is a porn company called Girls Do Porn that lied to women, conning them into acting in porn videos with the claim that  the videos would not be online and no one would ever see them.  Targeting college kids who needed the money, some succumbed to the almighty dollar.

Turns out the people who produced these videos were liars and the videos were available on the web if you subscribed.

Of course the women who acted in these videos had no idea.

UNTIL   …

On May 1, 2016, in the middle of final exams, a young woman got a text message that would change her life forever. It included a screenshot of a pornographic video posted online, featuring her. Panicking, she quickly tried to justify what she had done. “They said it would only be in Australia,” she told her friend, according to court documents. “I only did it for money.”

Eventually, 22 women sued Girls Do Porn and got a $13 million judgement.  The owner of Girls Do Porn, Michael Pratt, was charged with federal sex trafficking crimes and is a wanted fugitive.  The feds will probably catch up with him years from now when he makes a mistake.

In the mean time, these women have to deal with the consequences of the decisions they made.

One of the ways that Pratt generated traffic to his site was to post trailers for his videos on the very popular porn site called Pornhub.  That site even had a “channel” for Pratt’s content (Pratt wasn’t special, channels are a feature of the site).

After the verdict, Pratt’s site was taken down and Pornhub removed his “Channel” but that is not the end of the story.

Many of these videos are still available on Pornhub.  Unofficially.

Pornhub, which makes money from ads surrounding these videos, claims that the women can easily request these videos be taken down.  Sure.  Right.  BS!

Of course, they would have to know where each and every copy of the video is located.  And Pornhub is only one of a billion places where the video might be hosted.

Pornhub says that they “fingerprint” the video after a takedown request so that it cannot be uploaded again, but change one bit in the the video and the fingerprint is no longer the same.

When YouTube was first starting they did the same thing.  They  allowed people to post movies and other copyrighted content.  In fact, they encouraged it for the same reason that Pornhub does – it makes them money.

In YouTube’s case, they ticked off the wrong people – movie studios.

After spending tens of millions of dollars in legal fees over many years, they got a multi-billion dollar verdict against YouTube and Google decided that they really needed to fix the problem.  Of course, by then, they didn’t need pirated content to get people to the web site, so they were okay with cracking down on the practice.

In the case of these college coeds, they can’t afford tens of millions in legal fees.  In the case above, the video spread like wildfire across the college campus where she was a student.  Even the administration decided they needed to watch it for some unknown reason.

I guess the moral of the story is that it is often really hard to remove things from the Internet.  Google my name and you will find stories about me from 25 years ago.  Mind you, I have not tried to take any of them down, but if I wanted to, it would take a lot of effort.

In the case of these videos, they are not indexed by search engines under the victim’s name, so how do they even know they are online?  Until someone finds it and shares the information.  Too late then.

Section 230 of the DMCA gives websites broad immunity from being sued and that immunity is probably needed in order for many parts of the web not to shut down.  If Facebook could be sued for something a user posted, they would not be in business.   Neither would tens of thousands of sites that if they received just one lawsuit, they would be out of business.

For more details of the story of this particular case,  see this article on Vice.

Many states have revenge porn laws to try and address this problem, but getting a DA to attempt to find some kid in his parent’s basement who knows where and prosecute him for posting one or two videos.  Good luck.  That only happens in high profile cases.

Education is important so that people understand what can happen.  That helps them make wise decisions.

While this is more egregious than the problem with kids sharing nude selfies in middle school, the results are similar – a lot of emotional distress for the victims.  Probably, similar promises were made.  Oh, come on.  I won’t share it.  You get the idea.

Parents, please sit down with your kids and help the understand the consequences.  There is no easy way to unring the bell.  The consequences for the victims can be tragic.

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