It is never a good feeling to discover that your private sexual content has been published online for the world to see. Maybe you took a selfie and sent it to your now ex-partner, or your cloud was hacked. Once that photo or video exists, there is always a chance it could end up on the internet. Fortunately, just because it is online does not mean it has to be there forever.
In some cases, you may be able to file a criminal or civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. There are also a few ways you can get the content removed from the internet that may not require a lawsuit at all.
The top 3 ways to get intimate images removed from the internet are:
- Send a DMCA takedown notice,
- Report the intimate or explicit image to the hosting platform and/or search engines, or
- Hire a content removal professional.
In this article, we will discuss how to handle a situation where your private sexual content is posted online without your permission. We will cover your legal options as well as how to get the images removed from the internet.
Before we dive into specifics, let us define revenge porn to help you understand what you are dealing with.
What Are Revenge Porn & Nonconsensual Pornography?
Nonconsensual porn, also known as “revenge porn” and “distribution of intimate images without consent,” is a term used to describe the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. While the term “revenge porn” implies that a perpetrator is motivated by revenge, that is not always the case. A significant portion of revenge porn cases involve people who do not even know each other.
Nonconsensual pornography may take the form of intimate photographs you took secretly that were later hacked or stolen. It can also be sexual images or videos that you willingly shared with another person and were meant to remain private. Either way – whether you shared the images voluntarily or they were stolen – you have legal rights and options.
If the explicit images have been posted to the internet (ex. revenge porn websites) without your consent, there are a few ways you can get them removed. Also, depending on the specifics of your situation, you may have a criminal or civil lawsuit on your hands.
DMCA Request Fact: DMCA Requests are typically faster than obtaining a court order, making them inexpensive. The only drawback is that you must provide web hosts with a notice period (usually 7-30 days) before they have to remove your content and litigation may be necessary if the web host fails to honor your request.
What Qualifies as Revenge Porn?
As lawyers who represent revenge porn victims, one of the first questions we are often asked is, “Does my situation qualify as revenge porn?”
Sometimes the easiest way to understand something is to review common examples. Here are some examples that do constitute revenge porn:
Nonconsensual Publication & Sharing of Confidential Sexts
You were sexting with a crush and eventually sent nude images. You willingly shared intimate images and conversation but you never expected to find the images on the internet.
It turns out, your crush posted the images on several pornography sites without asking you first.
Hacked Private Nudes & Intimate Selfies
You took a few selfies on your phone that were meant to remain private. You thought about sending them to your significant other but lost the nerve. You kept the images on your phone because you thought one day you might build the courage to send the images.
Then you receive a text or email alerting you that there are nudes of you online and demanding money. They send you a link and it turns out the images are the nude selfies you took, but never sent to anyone! It turns out, your phone or cloud account was hacked and the hacker posted your photos online. Unfortunately, this type of sextortion is on the rise.
Nonconsensual Publication of Intimate Images on Shaming & Revenge Pornography Websites
You were with your spouse for years before things went south. Then, you formed a close friendship with a work colleague. Eventually, you had an affair and your spouse found out. They grabbed your phone one night while you were in the bathroom only to discover that you and your friend had been sexting back and forth.
In their rage and jealousy, they sent themselves the images and shared the compromising photos and texts all over the internet – primarily on shaming, cheater, and revenge pornography websites. Your in-laws and once “mutual” friends jumped on the gossip and shared the images – which have now gone viral.
What Does NOT Qualify as Revenge Porn?
On the flip-side, not everything fits the definition of nonconsensual pornography. The following examples are not revenge porn:
Consensual Paid Pornography
In your younger days, you sold some sexually explicit images of yourself to an online pornography site to make some quick cash. Now you are married with children and you are afraid your children might stumble across the images one day.
While you may still have some options to get the images removed or suppressed, your situation does not constitute revenge porn.
Authorized Use or Release of Photos
You got a tattoo that you love on your hip. It is fairly large and intricate, so the tattoo studio asked if they could take a photo of the tattoo to show other potential customers. You agreed and signed a form stating that they could use the image for advertising purposes because the image does not feature your face.
Now you see the image online and on other print advertising materials. At this point, everyone in your town knows it is a picture of your hip without underwear on! Technically, you cannot see anything explicit in the photo but it still is not exactly “suitable for work.” Your aging parents confront you about it and tell you how embarrassed they are. You wonder if the image might count as nonconsensual pornography – but unfortunately, it does not.
How to Find the Source of Your Intimate Images Online
If you find compromising pictures of yourself published online: do not panic. Take a deep breath and remember this is not your fault.
Just because you took an intimate photo does not mean you gave consent for it to be published online. In fact, nonconsensual pornography may be a form of intimate partner violence (domestic violence). It can also be a tool for hackers and scammers to prey on innocent and unsuspecting victims.
Although it may seem like the end of the world, it is possible to get the images down and figure out who published them.
Once you collect your thoughts, the first thing you want to do is preserve a copy of the content. You can take a screenshot, save it to your hard drive or a flash drive, or print the image.
Preserving the content before the perpetrator has a chance to delete it will be important when pursuing legal relief. If you communicate with the person who posted the content, make sure to save your conversations as well.
Reputation Management Tip: You can and should Google yourself to find any negative search results. It is not only acceptable behavior but something that is absolutely required for having and maintaining a career or personal life in the digital age. You can start by Googling your full name, including nicknames, maiden names, previous names, or your business’s registered name. This is a great first step toward locating negative content like revenge porn or defamation.
Report the Post
A free and easy way to get intimate images removed from the internet is by reporting the content. Social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have strict policies when it comes to adult content on their sites.
Google, Bing, and other search engines also enable users to flag non-consensual pornographic content. However, even if the search engine removes the content from their list of search results, it will still appear on the source website. For this reason, we recommend removing the content from the source website in addition to search engines.
Before you flag any content for removal, remember to preserve a copy. In the event you pursue legal action down the road, you will need evidence of the content. If you forget to preserve the evidence and it is removed from the internet, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to file a legal claim in court.
Content Removal Fact: Legally you cannot just hack a website or magically delete or remove online content. You can get into serious trouble if you get caught trying this. Beyond the legal repercussions, there is no guarantee that the removed content will not appear again. Likewise, there is no magical delete button to remove content. No one entity or individual has the power to simply remove content from the internet. The only effective way to remove content is to work with a content removal professional.
Back-track Images to Find the Source
It is not always immediately evident who posted nonconsensual pornography. You may have to do a little bit of research to identify an anonymous poster. Of course, an online defamation of character professional can help with this process, but there are some things you can do on your own.
You Can Reverse Search the Image
One of the simplest ways to find out the source of an image is by using Google Reverse Image Search. On your computer (or phone) simply right-click on the intimate or explicit image and select “copy image.” Then, go to Google Images and click “search by image.”
Paste the image you just copied into the search bar. The search results will point you toward all sites that have the image.
If you find the image only once, you can right-click the image and select “copy image address” to find the exact URL where the image is hosted.
You Can Find Out Who Hosts the Website or Server Where the Image Was Found
Using the website www.whoishostingthis.com or domaintools.com, you can look up the hosting provider for the website where the image was found. Enter the domain name where you found the intimate or private sexual image, and each site will provide you with information about the host.
This information will be helpful in pursuing the right defendant when pursuing legal action or getting the image removed.
For instance, if I search <minclaw.com> on Who is Hosting This, I will find the hosting provider, IP address, a link to the Whois record for the site, and server names.
Options for Legal Action Against Someone Who Distributes Your Intimate Images Online
You can get a court order to remove content that requires the other person to remove the intimate or private sexual image if you have a criminal or civil legal claim.
In this section, we will outline some criminal and civil claims you can make to obtain a court order for the removal of nonconsensual porn. Then, we will explain some alternatives to litigation that may also be at your disposal.
Whether you have any criminal claims depends on what age you were when the photos were taken and what state you or the perpetrator live in.
If you are a minor (under the age of 18) or the content was created while you were a minor, then you have a child pornography case on your hands. Child pornography is a very serious crime.
While each state carries its own child pornography statutes, punishments are harsh and people who violate these laws can be prosecuted under state or federal law (or both).
If the images were taken when you were an adult, you may also have a criminal case. Criminal cases are prosecuted by law enforcement and your local district attorneys. Victims do not have to pay for this service and do not have to have a private attorney to do this. However, it can be very helpful to retain one. Law enforcement resources can be stretched thin. It can often expedite the process and help get proper attention to your case by retaining a private attorney to assist in the process, gather evidence, and speak with investigators.
Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia have laws against nonconsensual porn. In those states, perpetrators can be punished by jail time or large fines. As of July 2020, the only states that have not criminalized nonconsensual pornography are Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina, and Wyoming.
For more information about fighting revenge porn and revenge porn law, please check out our article, “Revenge Porn Laws: How to Fight Back.” It includes a table that outlines which states have criminal laws against nonconsensual porn, as well as links to the specific state code.
Although only 12 states currently have civil laws regarding the non-consensual sharing of private images, in theory, perpetrators can be sued in any state. This is because other civil claims can be made against posters of non-consensual pornography. Possible civil claims include:
Unlike criminal matters, you will need to retain a private attorney for civil claims. However, you may be able to collect damages from the perpetrator at the end of a civil lawsuit or as part of a settlement.
It is also important to note that you will likely not be able to sue the platform or website where the intimate or sexual image was posted. Because most sites where non-consensual porn is shared are “user-submitted content” sites they are protected under the immunity granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
It is always best to sue the malicious poster of online content to ensure the case is not dismissed from the start. If the perpetrator is unknown, there are ways to ascertain their true identity. To learn more about identifying anonymous posters, view our article, “How to Identify Anonymous Online Posters.”
How to Get Your Intimate Images Removed From the Internet Without Litigation
Even if you do not pursue a criminal or civil lawsuit, there are still ways you may be able to remove intimate images from the internet without going to court. Sometimes, clients are not interested in punishing the offender or trying to secure a monetary award – they just want the content taken off the internet. In those cases, time and money may be saved by sending a DMCA takedown request.
Send a DMCA Takedown Request
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects the interests of copyright holders by regulating digital reproduction of copyrighted material. Even if you have not registered an image with the U.S. Copyright Office, you may still have copyright protections.
Contrary to popular belief the second you create an original work, fixed in a tangible medium, you automatically own the copyright to that work. In plain English, this means that you have copyright protections over any image you have taken yourself.
If a nude photo or video that you created yourself is shared online without your consent, you may be able to use copyright law to combat revenge porn by sending a DMCA takedown notice. DMCA takedowns are one of the simplest ways to get content removed from the internet, and it may even be something you can do on your own without the help of an attorney.
Where Should You Start if You Want to Take Legal Action?
If you think you might have a criminal claim, it is best to contact your local law enforcement officers. Only police and your local district attorney (within the jurisdiction) can prosecute criminal charges.
If you think you have a civil claim or want to pursue a non-litigation alternative, you will want to contact an attorney with experience in online defamation, DMCA takedown costs, and/or internet law.
How to Seek Legal Help If Your Intimate Images Were Distributed Without Your Consent
When you are the victim of nonconsensual porn, it is important to stay calm and remember that you have legal options. If you are reading this article because you have already been victimized, you are taking an essential first step: educating yourself.
You Have Resources at Your Disposal
As we mentioned earlier, the first thing you should do if you find your intimate images shared online is to preserve the evidence. Take screenshots of the image and its location. Then, if you are up for it, research the image to determine where it has been shared, and who hosts the websites. A professional can assist if you need help tracking down an anonymous poster.
Once you preserve the evidence, you can report the image if it violates a website’s Terms of Service.
Reporting an image is a free resource that is often immediately at your disposal when you discover nonconsensual pornography.
Seek Legal Help
If the non-legal options do not work, the images have gone viral, or the attacker continues to harass you, it may be time to hire a professional.
Minc Law Can Help You Remove Intimate Images From the Internet
Our attorneys have years of experience removing revenge porn and pursuing legal action on behalf of victims. We can also help with online reputation management if you wish to preserve your professional image.
Our goal is to bring you some peace of mind if you ever find yourself in a stressful situation involving non-consensual pornography. We take a compassionate and non-judgmental approach with all our clients because we know just how traumatizing revenge porn can be.
If you would like to learn more about your options, check out our Legal Resource Center, or contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.