As reported by several media outlets, an LA-based attorney representing “over a dozen female celebrities” whose photos were hacked and stolen in the recent iCloud nude photo scandal has threatened Google with $100 million in damages if the company doesn’t immediately block or remove the celebrities’ images.
The lawyer, Martin Singer, sent a demand letter (embedded below via Hollywood Reporter) to six top Google executives, including Larry Page. The legal issues in the matter are governed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its “safe harbor” provisions.
DMCA safe harbor exceptions to copyright liability protect online service providers against liability for the actions of users unless they’ve received proper notice of a violation and failed to act. Section 512 of the DMCA says that upon receiving a proper DMCA takedown notification, the service provider has a duty to “promptly remove or block access to the material identified.” If service providers fail to comply they’re exposed to potential liability.
This methodology has been and continues to be used by rights owners to remove unauthorized videos on YouTube, for example. Google gets hundreds (even thousands) of these requests on a regular basis. In some cases they may be inauthentic, but there’s a process to validate their legitimacy.
The Singer letter accuses Google of profiting from the “victimization of women.” This is just a little inflammatory and probably calculated to generate publicity. The letter also asserts that Google was given “dozens of notices” when the photos were first released and that the company has failed to act.
The letter demands the blocking and removal of all the images from search results and the termination of all Google-hosted sites that may be involved in the republication of the photos and videos.
Stepping back there are two main legal issues here:
It will be interesting to see/hear Google’s response. Yahoo, Bing and other search engines may be equally implicated; however, it’s not clear that Singer has pursued any action against them.
Postscript: Here’s the official response of a Google spokesperson:
“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.”
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