A woman in Texas has won a rare, major legal victory in a revenge porn case. Local station ABC KTRK reports that a civil court has awarded the anonymous woman $500,000 after her former boyfriend of seven years posted photographs and videos from their relationship on YouTube and other sites as a way to harass her after their breakup. "He would update me on how many people had seen it, or downloaded it," she tells ABC. While the ex-boyfriend reportedly plans to appeal the suit, this civil case has been more successful than other revenge porn suits, which often fall into a legal gray area. A case in New York, which attempted to use laws against harassment and public display of offensive material, was thrown out last month.
"Revenge porn" encompasses a broad range of issues, and it's proved difficult to craft appropriate law around it. When it's prosecuted, it's often under existing but only partly related rules. In some cases, prosecutors have gone after people who allegedly hacked victims' computers or email accounts to find photographs: Hunter Moore, who founded revenge porn site Is Anyone Up, was arrested this year and indicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Until last year, New Jersey was the only state to have a law explicitly covering the distribution of "intimate" photos or videos without someone's consent.
In October 2013, California passed the nation's second law, which was criticized by free speech advocates and revenge porn victim support groups alike. While it can impose up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine to people who distribute materials in an attempt to cause emotional distress, it doesn't cover a large portion of "revenge porn" photos and videos: those that were taken by the subject and sent to someone who would later abuse them. Some opponents worried that the provisions that were included could be used as a broad cudgel to remove legitimate material from the internet. Nonetheless, several states are weighing similar options. The Illinois Senate has approved legislation that would make it a felony to post sexually explicit pictures without the subject's consent, and New York, Washington, and others are considering bills. Lawmakers in Texas, where this suit was filed, are also working on revenge porn laws.