Federal 'Revenge Porn' Law in the Works

Nov 25, 2013 3:00 PM PST

WASHINGTON — Activists working with a member of Congress have announced that they are preparing federal legislation to outlaw "revenge porn," potentially shifting accountability to Internet companies.

The sponsor on Capitol Hill has so far remained anonymous, but Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks is helping draft the bill.

The forthcoming bill would make posting revenge porn a federal crime punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine.

According to Franks, one of the primary motivations behind making revenge porn a federal law, rather than relying on state punishment, is to close legal loop holes implicit in Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which trumps state law.

Under Section 230, Internet providers and websites aren’t legally responsible for third-party content posted by their users, provided the content doesn’t violate intellectual property laws or federal criminal laws.

“The impact [of a federal law] for victims would be immediate,” Franks told U.S. News. “If it became a federal criminal law that you can’t engage in this type of behavior, potentially Google, any website, Verizon, any of these entities might have to face liability for violations.”

Hunter Moore, infamous revenge porn site operator, posted a mocking YouTube video after California criminalized the act in Oct., alleging that the Communications Decency Act protected webmasters and essentially rendered the new law moot.

Should a federal law come to fruition, Moore and other webmasters would become accountable for such content on their site; Franks used the special status of child pornography as a comparable example.    

New Jersey acted as trailblazer for the campaign against revenge porn, making it a felony in 2004. California recently followed suit when Gov. Jerry Brown approved a bill that designated it as misdemeanor offense. Now similar legislation is being drafted in New York, a Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maryland and abroad.

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