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A Man Is Going to Prison for Breaking California's Revenge Porn Law

Although it might be said to represent a victory over pervs everywhere, there are some serious questions raised by revenge porn laws in general.

by Allie Conti
Dec 4 2014, 4:00pm

Photo via Flickr user ​f1uffster (Jeanie)

Monday saw the first conviction under California's ​revenge porn law: Noe Iniguez was senten​ced to a year in jail and 36 months of probation after he posted a topless photo of his ex online. The 36-year-old from Los Angeles also called the woman a "drunk" and a "slut," among other derogatory comments.

It's actually pretty surprising that Iniguez is serving time. When the law was passed in October 2013, criti​cs called it pointless and said it put a burden on prosecutors to prove intended "emotional distress." It also curiously excluded selfies, which make up about 80 percent of what becomes revenge porn. And although these kinds of laws might be said to represent a victory over pervs everywhere, there are some serious questions raised by revenge porn laws in general.

In neighboring Arizona, for instance, a lawsuit has been filed by a consortium of concerned First Amendment advocates. Helmed by a bookseller named Gayle Shanks and bound together by the ​ACLU, the group actually brings up some pretty good points—or at least good enough that they got a federal judge to put a hold on the law late last month. Their efforts also point to a conundrum that will have to be resolved if there's any hope of a federal anti-revenge-porn law getting passed.

Back in April, Arizona became the ninth state to pass a law aimed at stopping disgruntled guys from humiliating their exes. House ​Bill 2515 made it unlawful to "disclose, display, distribute, publish, advertise or offer" nude photographs. That struck plaintiff Shanks as incredibly broad—if she actually followed the law she'd be pulling books off her shelves, or else ostensibly face arrest.

"The law makes it very difficult for a book store to carry art books, because nearly every art book because nearly every book has nudes in them," Shanks told VICE. "Obviously the photographer got permission before taking the photos, but if a police officer walked in and saw an Edward Weston book on my shelves, he or she could ask where we had permission in the store from each model to sell their pictures."

Her complaint brings up examples of potentially banned speech that are much more problematic. Examples include a college professor showing the iconic "Napalm Girl" photo during a lecture on Vietnam, a newsstand operator selling a magazine with the Abu Ghraib images in it, and a sexual assault victim showing a snapshot of her nude assailant to her mother—all could theoretically be subject to felony charges under the new Arizona law.

No one's been prosecuted under Arizona's law yet—and the idea of someone getting charged in one of the aforementioned scenarios is rather unlikely. But the law doesn't take a distributor's motive into account, as the California law does, nor does it make an exception for matters of public interest.

While California's law has been criticized for being too specific at least it worked in Iniguez's case. But there is still a need to be careful when writing these bills.

"The revenge porn law could be a good law, but unfortunately the Arizona legislators didn't think it through from beginning to end," Shanks said. "They thought they were solving the problem of disgruntled ex-boyfriends posting photos on the internet, but they took it way too far." 

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