ACLU Challenges Arizona's Revenge Porn Law

Sep 29, 2014 4:30 PM PST

PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Arizona’s recently passed revenge porn law violates the First Amendment.

"On its face it will affect a goodly amount of protected speech that has nothing to do with the prototypical revenge porn scenario," said Dan Pochoda, legal director for the state ACLU. "There's a reason why so many media folks, bookseller folks, have joined [the lawsuit,] because a number of things they do in a normal course would be criminalized by this law."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on behalf of several bookstores and publishing associations, the owner of the Village Voice and 12 other alternative newsweeklies nationwide, and the National Press Photographers Association, ABC News reported.

While the ACLU has criticized revenge porn laws that have passed in 13 states, this is the first time that the civil rights group has sued.

They believe that’s Arizona’s law is too broad and more vulnerable to exploitation than the narrowly written laws with the same intent in other states, including California, New Jersey, Hawaii, New York, Utah, Virginia and elsewhere. Arizona’s House Bill 2515, they argue, can make any person who distributes or displays a nude image without explicit permission guilty of a felony.

"This law will have an unconstitutional chilling effect on free speech." said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, whose members include the plaintiff associations of publishers, librarians and booksellers. "To comply with the law, booksellers and librarians will have to spend countless hours looking over books, magazines and newspapers to determine if a nude picture was distributed with consent. Many store owners will simply decline to carry any materials containing nude images to avoid the risk of going to prison."

The plaintiffs noted several examples that could be prosecuted under the law, including a college professor handing out pictures of the famous photograph “Napalm Girl,” which depicts a young burned nude girl running from her bombed village during the Vietnam war.

Republican Rep. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler who crafted the bill doubts that a prosecutor would attempt to skew the law as the ACLU imagines. The bill was crafted in response to the growing phenomenon of revenge porn, an act that typically refers to a jilted lover posting nude photos of an ex online as a means of revenge.

Still, Mesnard say he is willing to rewrite the bill to allow for exemptions as long as it doesn't open "Pandora's box."      

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