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Cyberscholar Working Group at Yale

Yale University
40 Ashmun St, 4th floor, room A436. New Haven.
Friday, Sept. 19 - 4:00 - 5:30pm

The Cyberscholar Working Group is a forum for fellows and affiliates of MIT, Yale Law School Information Society Project, Columbia University, NYU and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to discuss their ongoing research and brainstorm around current topics related to the Information Society. We will be meeting alternatively at Harvard, MIT, Yale, Columbia and NYU. These meetings will take place once a month throughout the academic year, normally on Friday evenings. The working group aims to expand the shared knowledge of young scholars by bringing together these preeminent centers of thought on issues confronting the information age.

This week's presenters/discussions include:

(1) Amanda Levendowski began researching the legal issues surrounding revenge porn in 2012. Her student Note,Using Copyright to Combat Revenge Porn, appeared in the NYU Law Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law. Amanda's work has also been featured by The Atlantic, WNYC's On The Media, FastCompany, and the Washington Post. She regularly blogs about speech, privacy, IP, and technology issues at SPITfire. Amanda recently graduated from NYU Law, where she received the Walter J. Derenberg Prize for her achievements in copyright law. Blog: Twitter: @levendowski.


I. What We Talk About When We Talk About Revenge Porn

Before we talk about revenge porn law or policy, we need to understand what we are really talking about.

"Revenge porn" is the most frequently used term to discuss the (digital) distribution of nude or sexually explicit images without the consent of the pictured individual. The term implies that distributing these images represents some kind retribution justification, when really, distributing these images is a disturbing, damaging and indefensible action.

The term is also used to describe a variety of behaviors, ranging from the distribution of consensually disclosed images by former partners, non-consensually created images (voyeurism) and non-consensually obtained images (hacking). Each of these differing forms of distribution is associated with different pre-existing legal remedies, and those remedies don't necessarily overlap: remedies that may be available for one victim may not be available for all.

II. More Crimes, More Problems: Why Criminalization Isn't a Solution

Because 'revenge porn' encompasses a wide variety of behaviors, many advocates and victims have encouraged legislators to enact broad criminal laws. These laws are rarely drafted in a way that only targets revenge porn.

Recent revenge porn bills, including the legislation passed in Arizona and Hawaii, as well as the proposed Michigan bill, often criminalize legitimate speech that falls outside our conception of revenge porn. In attempts to broadly prevent revenge porn, these laws also incidentally prohibit the distribution of legitimate speech, like sex education materials and commercial films.

Understanding which existing laws may apply to revenge porn, and which criminal laws relate to "revenge porn adjacent" behaviors like extortion or fraud, also provide a better sense of where legal gaps in protection may exist. Criminalization will always be a blunt instrument to regulate human dysfunction - the discussion about revenge porn criminalization highlights the challenges of regulating an issue at the intersection of free speech, privacy and technology.


In this week's meeting, we will also be holding a discussion around the following topic:

(2) "The Internet is Dead. Isn't it?" The Internet popularized during the 90s with the promise of liberation and progress around different social and economic issues. Yet, these positive meanings are now called into question by different events such as the Snowden revelations, the end of Net Neutrality, the enforcement of copyright legislations, or the setbacks encountered by the Arab Springs. In this Cyberscholar's session, we will look back at these initial promises and brainstorm about what's the current perception of the Internet as a positive social force. Is the Internet losing its initial meaning?

Past Event
Sep 19, 2014
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM