PRIVACY

Hollywood Lobbyists Are Trying To Kill Minnesota’s Revenge Porn Bill

JLaw probably wouldn't approve

(Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso)
Mar 29, 2016 at 1:39 PM ET

The fight against revenge porn, the practice of sharing someone’s nude or sexually explicit photos without their consent, has a curious new opponent: Hollywood.

The Motion Picture Association of America, the movie industry’s major lobbying arm, has for what’s believed to be the first time weighed in on a revenge porn bill: Minnesota’s HF 2741. As there is no federal bill or law specifically prohibiting the practice, the biggest battles against revenge porn take place in state legislatures. Currently, 27 states have laws restricting or banning revenge porn.

Proponents of revenge porn legislation usually seek to protect the privacy and safety of the women (and sometimes men) victimized by the practice, often by a jealous or vengeful ex. They often butt heads with staunch free speech advocates, like the American Civil Liberties Union, who push back against limiting a person’s ability to post even the most unsavory content online. But it’s a curious stance for Hollywood: In 2014, hacked nude photos of some of its biggest stars were rapidly spread across the internet, the highest-profile instance of revenge porn to date. One of the victims, Jennifer Lawrence, called it a “sex crime.”

“I imagine that so many of the movie star victims of the celebrity hack would be horrified that the MPAA is taking this stance,” Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn attorney who specializes in revenge or nonconsensual porn cases, told Vocativ.

More Dark Net: How Revenge Porn Goes Viral

At issue is a provision in the bill that the person who releases such photos or videos doesn’t have to actually desire to harm the person depicted for it to be considered a crime. In an open letter, to Minnesota legislators, the MPAA worries that this could hamper the distribution of explicit but newsworthy material, like “images of Holocaust victims, or prisoners at Abu Ghraib.” The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-revenge porn legal advocacy group of which Goldberg is a member, has countered, saying, “This bill cannot plausibly be read as a threat to the distribution of constitutionally protected material of legitimate interest to the public.”

“The stance that they’re taking is for a more narrow law, one that requires the intent to humiliate and harass victims. And Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton are exactly the type who would be excluded from this law,” Goldberg said.

“I do want to get this through without the requested intent to harass language insisted upon by the media coalition, because that effectively kind of guts the bill,” Minnesota state representative John Lesch, the bill’s author, told Vocativ. “You could just suggest it was for some reason other than harassment or humiliation and the state would not be able to effectively prosecute a crime. It would be dismissed at initial hearing.”

The MPAA is no stranger to weighing in on bills to affect the internet. It has a long lobbying history, but is perhaps best known for its fierce push for the ill-fated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) of 2012, an unpopular copyright enforcement bill that spurred massive online protests.

In a statement provided to Vocativ by spokesperson Chris Ortman, the MPAA defended the organization’s stance as an attempt to strike a balance between free speech and privacy:  “While we agree with the aims of HF 2741’s sponsors, we are concerned that the current version of the bill is written so broadly that it could have a chilling effect on mainstream and constitutionally-protected speech.”

The bill passed through the Minnesota House’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday. The House Civil Law Committee is scheduled to pick it up Thursday night.

This post was updated on March 30.