Last week, a German high court ruled that you can legally request that your ex-partner delete all erotic media of you following your breakup. This is great news for the nation's prolific sexters and a terrible blow for its begrudging, malicious shitheads. It's also something that would probably never happen in the United States.
According to The Local, an English-language German newspaper, the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz ruled that "the consent to use and own privately recorded nude pictures could be withdrawn by the ex-partner on the grounds of personal rights, which are valued higher than the ownership rights of the photographer." Interestingly, the plaintiff's ex-partner hadn't posted the images anywhere, so she wasn't suing for damages: she just wanted the photos off of his computer because he no longer had her consent to possess them now that their relationship had ended.
The justification for this ruling, as the Guardian explains, is that the German constitution stipulates that one's own free development is legally protected only as long as it doesn't impede on the liberties of others:
The court based its decision on Articles 1(1) and 2(1) of the German Constitution. Article 1(1) provides for the inviolability of human dignity. Article 2(1) states that "[e]very person shall have the right to free development of his personality" so long as the rights of others are not violated. The court interpreted the personality right to include an "intimate sphere" subject to protection. The protection afforded to the intimate sphere was more important than any copyright protection or rights afforded to the ex-lover photographer.
In the good old U.S. of A., revenge porn is illegal in 10 states, and legislation is pending in 27 others. However, advocates caution that not all of these laws may be adequate — they have to be worded very specifically in order to be effective without failing to withstand the inevitable freedom-of-speech and freedom-of-the-press challenges. Unlike Germany, we in America don't value privacy over freedom of expression, even if said expression is meant to humiliate, intimidate and/or cause harm to another person. In the words of ACLU lawyer Lee Rowland: "The reality is that revenge porn laws tend to criminalize the sharing of nude images that people lawfully own. That treads on very thin ice constitutionally."
But should we really be so worried about ownership of images when revenge porn can cause so much harm to its victims? As Emily Bazelon puts it at Slate, this landmark ruling may reveal that "little speech of value to be lost" in outlawing revenge porn, whereas there's "a lot of relief from humiliation and invasion of privacy gained."
Image via Yeko Photo Studio/Shutterstock.