MPAA says Minn. revenge porn bill would compromise free speech

A revenge porn bill that cleared a committee in the Minnesota House drew fire from the MPAA, which said it could impede free speech.
A revenge porn bill that cleared a committee in the Minnesota House drew fire from the MPAA, which said it could impede free speech.

A revenge porn bill that cleared a committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives Friday has drawn swift opposition from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which in a letter to state lawmakers said the measure could curb free speech.

The MPAA letter (published here by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, or CCRI) urged legislators to include an intent to harass requirement in HF 2741, the Stop Online Piracy Act of 2012, as six other states have done in their laws. Otherwise, the lobbying group noted, the Minnesota bill might limit distribution of a large swath of “mainstream, Constitutionally protected material, including items of legitimate news, commentary, and historical interest,” including photos of “prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph entitled 'Napalm Girl' — which shows a young girl running screaming from her village, naked, following a Napalm attack.”

But the CCRI took issue with that argument, noting that “the plainly legitimate sweep of this statute is to prohibit the unauthorized distribution of private, sexually explicit photos and videos. The statute only applies to distributors who ‘know or should know' that the image was created under circumstances intended to remain private and explicitly exempts material that ‘relates to a matter of public concern and dissemination serves a lawful purpose.'” The examples cited by the MPAA could not be misconstrued as revenge porn either because the images were taken in places not “considered private” or their distribution is justified because it serves a lawful purpose regarding a matter of concern to the public.

The civil rights group also warned that by including an intent to harass provision “the law would be rendered both incoherent and vulnerable to constitutional attack. It would allow people to distribute private, sexually explicit material of no public concern unless it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that their motive was to harass.”

As a result, CCRI wrote, “it would be legal to distribute such material for any other motive, including for profit, entertainment, social validation, or no reason at all.” The upshot? “Revenge porn site operators would be free to destroy the lives, careers, reputations, and personal relationships of thousands of people, mostly women, because they are not [motivated] by a desire to harass but by a desire to make money,” said CCRI.

In lieu of federal revenge porn legislation, 26 states have already adopted such laws. 

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