A female Philadelphia news station anchor has filed a $10 million lawsuit against a number of websites, including Facebook, for using a convenience store surveillance camera snapshot of her without her consent to, among other things, hawk unsavory products and services.
Filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the lawsuit by WTXF anchor Karen Hepp, the co-host of the station’s “Good Day Philadelphia” program, specifically names Facebook, Reddit, Imgur, Giphy, and XNXX, as well as 10 other unnamed sites.
Reddit is a discussion forum, Imgur is an image repository, Giphy is a GIF repository, and XNXX is a porn website.
You can read the full suit below:
“Approximately two years ago, Plaintiff discovered through her co-workers and managers, that, without her consent, a photograph of her taken by a security camera in a convenience store located in New York City was being used in online advertisements for erectile dysfunction and dating websites,” the suit reads. “Plaintiff has since learned that The Photo has appeared illegally on many other websites.”
Including the following:
- In a Facebook advertisement soliciting users “to meet and chat with single women.”
- In an Imgur photo labeled “milf,” which is a derogatory term for women with children.
- In a Reddit forum about “older but still f–kable” women.
- In a doctored Giphy GIF that shows a man masturbating behind her.
- In a “milf” gallery on XNXX.
The suit continues by describing Hepp as a “well-known public figure who has spent years honing her skills as a professional television broadcaster,” only to see her image be tarnished in part because of the companies listed above.
“Through their actions … Defendants have appropriated Plaintiff’s likeness, which has commercial value, and used same for commercial purposes without Plaintiff’s written consent,” the suit reads. “Defendants’ sexualization of Plaintiff’s image and use for prurient and illicit purposes is abhorrent and disgusting. Defendants’ actions with respect to Plaintiff’s image have caused serious, permanent and irreparable harm to Plaintiff’s reputation.”
For this “serious, permanent and irreparable harm” to her reputation, Hepp would like the court to one, force the websites to remove her image, and two, make them pay her “compensatory damages.”
On WTXF, Hepp hosts a regular series called “Bizzy Mamas.” The latest episode of the series can be viewed below:
What remains unclear is whether her legal demands even stand a chance of being approved.
“That could prove a difficult request, since under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, sites generally aren’t responsible for content that’s posted by users,” The Verge notes. “The post on Reddit, for example, seems clearly user-generated. So Hepp could sue the person who posted it, but she couldn’t extend that liability to Reddit. If the operators of a site like XNXX collected and posted her photo themselves, there’s a better chance of taking them to court.”
While Section 230 may therefore seem like a bad thing, it’s technically not.
Section 230 exists to ensure that the online forums seen on Facebook, Twitter and other networks remain free of censorship. Otherwise, were Section 230 to not exist, these networks would be forced to censor certain content, lest they be held criminally responsible for any potentially offensive or “hateful” content that their users post.
“Ending or amending Section 230 wouldn’t make life difficult just for Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of today’s biggest online platforms. Eroding the law would seriously jeopardize free speech for everyone, particularly marginalized groups whose ideas don’t sit easily with the mainstream,” Reason magazine notes.
The problem is that a number of these websites have already begun censoring content, particularly content by non-establishment voices. It’s for this reason that some congressional Republicans have begun pushing for Section 230 to be slightly modified.
For instance, a bill proposed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley three months ago would nullify Section 230’s immunity — but only for those websites that fail to prove that they aren’t censoring content.
Big tech companies are the largest and most powerful companies today – with enormous resources and advanced algorithms they can use to help them moderate content. Those companies should not receive this government subsidy free of any responsibility. https://t.co/htfYlugWWL pic.twitter.com/ddtZCvz8Ix
— Senator Hawley Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) August 9, 2019
“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” Hawley said at the time. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”
“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with,” he continued. “Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate.”
Would this bill help Hepp, though? Only if the sites where her photos appeared were proven to be engaging in censorship. After losing their Section 230 protection, then she’d be free to swoop in like a dragon and sue them into oblivion.
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