Photo: BeImages/Gregory Pace.
UPDATED: Google has responded to the threat of a $100 million lawsuit with the following statement:
"We’ve removed tens of thousands of pictures, within hours of the requests being made, and we have closed hundreds of accounts. The Internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them.” (Deadline)
Is Google doing enough to keep nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Amber Heard, Rihanna, and Kate Upton off the Internet? According to the lawyers of the celebrities, the answer is a firm no — and they're threatening to sue over it.
Marty Singer, a lawyer representing about a dozen of the female stars whose private nude images have been hacked and leaked online since August, has issued a letter warning Google that it may be sued for "profiting from the victimization of women" and engaging in "blatantly unethical behavior."
Singer has claimed that the search engine was warned four weeks ago to remove the salacious images. Despite several notices, the images remain visible on Google-owned sites like YouTube and BlogSpot.
"In knowingly accommodating, facilitating, and perpetuating the unlawful conduct...Google is making millions and profiting from the victimization of women," Singer wrote in the scathing letter.
Photo: BeImages/Gregory Pace.
"Google knows the images are hacked stolen property, private and confidential photos and videos unlawfully obtained and posted by pervert predators who are violating the victims’ privacy rights," he added. "Yet Google has taken little or no action to stop these outrageous violations.
"Because the victims are celebrities with valuable publicity rights you do nothing — nothing but collect millions of dollars in advertising revenue...as you seek to capitalize on this scandal rather than quash it. Like the NFL, which turned a blind eye while its players assaulted and victimized women and children, Google has turned a blind eye while its sites repeatedly exploit and victimize these women.”
Them's fighting words. To put the issue into context, this week's New Yorker features an article on online privacy laws both here and abroad. In the U.S., the easiest way to remove or clean up privacy-violating images or information is to claim copyright.
Lawyers representing the celebrities thus obtained copyrights for as many of the hacked photographs as they could. Armed with those copyrights, they then notified various sites, as well as Google, and demanded that the photos be removed on the grounds that they were violating copyright law.
"Google complied," the article notes, "as did many of the sites, and now the photographs are difficult to find on the Internet, though they have not disappeared. 'For the most part, the world goes through search engines,' said one lawyer involved in the effort to limit the distribution of the photographs. 'Now it’s like a tree falling in the forest. There may be links out there, but if you can’t find them through a search engine they might as well not exist.'"
In other words, Google has taken some action, but not, it seems, enough. What's scary is to consider the scenario if the phone hacking victims hadn't obtained a copyright — though, with many of the photos being selfies, that's less of an issue here. The simple argument of a privacy violation, in many cases, isn't enough to sway sites to take down objectionable material. Violating a copyright, however, is illegal, and therefore calls on sites to act swiftly.