Revenge Porn Law Was Not Designed to Deal With a Case Like Ex-Congresswoman Katie Hill

Illustration for article titled Revenge Porn Law Was Not Designed to Deal With a Case Like Ex-Congresswoman Katie Hill
Image: J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

In April, a judge dismissed former House Representative Katie Hill’s lawsuit charging the Daily Mail, the conservative news outlet Red State, as well as Red State’s Jennifer Van Laar with distributing non-consensual porn and violating California’s so-called “revenge porn” law when they published nude photos of her in 2019. Now, Hill has been ordered to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees, including more than $100,000 to the Daily Mail.

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More, via the Los Angeles Times:

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco awarded about $105,000 to the parent company of the Daily Mail, a British tabloid.

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Orozco previously ordered Hill to pay about $84,000 to the attorneys of Jennifer Van Laar, managing editor of the conservative website Red State, and about $30,000 to lawyers representing radio producer Joseph Messina. (Hill initially accused Messina of being part of a conspiracy to distribute the pictures, but dropped her claim against him earlier this year.)

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In a response Hill shared on Wednesday, she wrote, “A judge just ordered me to PAY the Daily Mail more than $100k for the privilege of them publishing nude photos of me obtained from an abuser.” She added, “The justice system is broken for victims.”

The idea that Hill has to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to outlets and reporters who published intimate, nude photos of her without her consent is morally repugnant, and a reminder that too often the function of the law is not to deliver what any reasonable person would consider justice. But the legal issues Hill’s lawsuit raises are worth examining in more depth.

“This case is important politically, societally and legally,” Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School law professor, told the Los Angeles Times in March. “With each new case comes important precedential value.”

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As the Los Angeles Times wrote of California’s law on non-consensual porn, “The 2013 law makes it a crime to distribute private images without the person’s permission but has exceptions, notably if such sharing is in the ‘public interest.’”

Many legal scholars believe that the “public interest” exemption in these laws is critical, commonly citing the example of Anthony Weiner, who sent his own nudes to a student—an act that’s theoretically relevant to his decision-making abilities as a public official. That public interest exemption is what the attorneys for the Daily Mail, Red State, and Van Laar used in their so-far successful argument that their publishing of nude photos of Hill was protected by the First Amendment. In April, Judge Yolanda Orozco found that the photos of Hill were “a matter of public issue or public interest” when she dismissed the case. Via the Orange County Register:

“Here, the intimate images published by [the Mail] spoke to [Hill’s] character and qualifications for her position, as they allegedly depicted [Hill] with a campaign staffer whom she was alleged to have had a sexual affair with and appeared to show [Hill] using a then-illegal drug and displaying a tattoo that was controversial because it resembled a white supremacy symbol that had become an issue during her congressional campaign,” the judge wrote.

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The judge ruled that the photos reflected Hill’s “character, judgment and qualifications for her congressional position.”

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But to Hill’s attorney Carrie Goldberg, who has made a name for herself championing laws protecting sexual privacy and fighting the distribution of non-consensual porn, the dismissal of Hill’s lawsuit “sets a dangerous precedent for victims of nonconsensual pornography everywhere.” To Goldberg, the conservative news outlets involved “are trying to create case law that publishing revenge porn is protected speech.”

“Anybody who dares enter the public eye should now have legitimate concern that old nude and sexual images can be shared widely and published by any person or media purporting to have journalistic intentions,” Goldberg wrote, according to Business Insider. Goldberg added, “This ruling has the exact opposite effect California’s revenge porn intended—which was to reduce and not amplify or promote nude images without consent.”

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According to the Los Angeles Times, Hill plans on appealing the dismissals of her lawsuit.

Senior reporter, Jezebel

DISCUSSION

reader7890
Reader7890

But didn’t Weiner send his dick pics to a minor?  Wasn’t that the worst part of the whole tawdry affair?  Hill doesn’t seem to have broken any laws, so I see this as being entirely different.  People may do things you don’t like, and they may do them naked with someone you don’t want them to, but that’s not illegal.  Publishing naked pictures of someone without their permission... that should be illegal and punishable by many many years in jail.