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Supreme Court says child porn victims can claim payment from anyone who has their images

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Victims of child pornography whose images have spread around the internet can now claim damages from anyone who possessed those files, the Supreme Court ruled today, but may not be held liable for as much money as distributors or pornographers.

The case was Paroline vs. United States, in which a woman, "Amy," sought restitution from a Texas man named Doyle Paroline for possessing two images of her being raped when she was 8 and 9 years old. A federal judge ruled that Paroline was not liable for Amy's restitution because there was no proof he contributed to her abuse, but a federal appeals court judge decided the opposite way and ordered Paroline to pay $3.4 million.

A federal appeals judge ordered Paroline to pay $3.4 million

The Supreme Court decision invalidated that award, saying that "it makes sense to spread the payment among a larger number of offenders in amounts more closely in proportion to their respective causal roles and their own circumstances." In other words, Paroline can be made to pay restitution to the victim for his role in the crime, but it must be a smaller amount in order to be proportionate.

The ruling could be construed as a favorable treatment of Paroline, and certainly falls short of zero tolerance for consumers of child pornography. However, those who look at child porn will now fear having to pay hefty damages to the victims in addition to the criminal charges for possession of images.

Amy successfully prosecuted and received $6,000 from her abuser, who was her uncle. After that, she went to courts around the country seeking restitution from others who had pleaded guilty to possessing her images, which had been widely circulated.

Correction, 3:33PM: A previous version of this article said that "Amy" had sued Paroline; in fact, she sought restitution under a 1994 law as part of his criminal case.