Combat Cyberbullying with Copyright Law

“Sharing photos without the owner’s consent is a violation of their rights and can result in legal consequences, including monetary damages and injunctions to stop the infringing activity.”

cyberbullyingRecently, Netflix released a documentary titled, “The Most Hated Man on the Internet,” which is about anti-revenge porn activists and their efforts to take down the website, The site was founded by Hunter Moore and allowed anyone to anonymously upload nude photos with social media handles or to submit sexually explicit photos of others without their consent. The documentary follows Charlotte Laws, whose daughter’s photos were shared on the site, as she launches a campaign to shut it down.

Finding out that private sexual material has been made public on the internet is never a pleasant experience. This could happen after sending a selfie to an ex-partner or a cloud being hacked. Although the material is online, it is not necessarily permanent and can be removed.

Ownership of Copyright

In the Netflix documentary, Charlotte’s daughter took private photos of herself without any intent to share with anyone. Unfortunately, her account was attacked by Moore, and her photos were uploaded to together with all her social account information. Her stepfather, who is an attorney, threatened to file a lawsuit against Moore for violating copyright laws, claiming Charlotte’s daughter held the copyright to those private photos. After the litigation threat, the sexually explicit photos were taken down.

Photographs are automatically protected by copyright laws from the time they are taken. Typically, the photographer holds the rights to the work, and the person depicted in the photo has no legal claim to the photo’s intellectual property. This is because, under copyright law, the creator of a work is granted exclusive rights to control how their work is used, distributed and displayed. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the photograph was created as part of employment, the employer may own the copyright. Additionally, if the subject of the photograph has signed a model release form, they may have granted the photographer the right to use their likeness in the photograph.

In the documentary, many victims’ photos were shared by their ex-partners for revenge purposes. However, sharing photos owned by others without their permission is generally considered copyright infringement. Sharing photos without the owner’s consent is a violation of their rights and can result in legal consequences, including monetary damages and injunctions to stop the infringing activity.

If you are not the copyright owner of the photos, do you still have any right to remove the photos? In addition to copyright law, there are two forms of personality rights that can impact the use of photographs of living individuals: the right of publicity and the right of privacy. The right of publicity governs the commercial use of a person’s image, name or likeness, and it gives individuals control over how their image is used for commercial purposes. The right of privacy governs the use of photographs that depict a person in a manner that is offensive, intrusive, or embarrassing, and it gives individuals control over how their image is used in a manner that invades their personal privacy.

Safe Harbor Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) 

In the film, Moore boasted about his website and attracted many followers who worshipped him. Moore argued that he was not accountable for the uploaded private photos, as the photos were posted anonymously and he simply served as a platform for the porn-revengers. Is it true that a website owner has no liability for any copyright infringement if the content is uploaded by others?

The safe harbor provisions in the DMCA shield online service providers from being held responsible for copyright infringement committed by their users. To benefit from this protection, the website operator must follow specific requirements, such as removing infringing content upon notification and having a system in place to handle repeat offenders. The safe harbor also covers situations where the website operator posts content based on user direction.

One example of the safe harbor provision in the DMCA is when an online service provider, such as YouTube, allows users to upload and share videos on its platform. If one of the user-uploaded videos infringes on a third-party’s copyright, the copyright holder can send a takedown notice to YouTube. Upon receipt of the notice, YouTube is required to remove the infringing video and notify the user who uploaded it. If the user repeatedly uploads infringing content, YouTube can terminate their account in accordance with its repeat infringer policy. Because YouTube has taken these steps and fulfilled its obligations under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, it is protected from liability for any copyright infringement committed by its users.

In the documentary, victims had begged Moore to take down their photos, but he ignored these desperate requests and relished in ruining others’ lives. If it is impossible to reason with a website owner like Moore, what else can you do to defend yourself?

One solution is to contact the website host if the website is hosted on a third-party platform. To find the host of a website, you can try the following methods:

Whois Lookup: You can use a Whois lookup service, such as, to find information about the website’s owner and host. Simply enter the website’s domain name and the service will display the registration information, including the host’s name and contact details.

Network Tools: Network tools, such as “ping” and “traceroute,” can help you identify the host by tracing the route between your computer and the website’s server.

Website’s Source Code: You may be able to find information about the website’s host by looking at the source code of the website. To access the source code, right-click on the website and select “View Page Source.” Then search for the “Server” header to see the name of the host.

If you can identify the website host, send the host a takedown notice by locating the specific content on the website that you believe infringes on your copyright and informing them of the infringement. Explain your rights and request that the infringing content be removed.

However, it is important to note that not all information about a website’s host may be publicly available. In some cases, the host may use privacy services to conceal their identity.

Eliminate Content from Search Engines

If you have tried to contact the website owner and the website host but still cannot remove the content, you may want to try to prevent the website from being found. By sending DMCA removal requests to search engines and ISPs, the copyright owner can ensure that the stolen content cannot be accessed.

Reporting copyright infringement to search engines like Google is critical to prevent the infringing website from appearing in searches. For example, Google provides an online form specifically for reporting copyright infringement. The form guides you through the process by allowing you to select the scenario that describes your situation. Although this cannot remove the website, it prevents the website from being indexed by Google and appearing in search results.

Report Infringement to Law Enforcement

Although copyright infringement is a civil matter resolved by court instead of by law enforcement, reporting it to the FBI by filing an internet crime report is still recommended, as it creates an official record, even if the FBI may not have the authority to take action. Reporting to the FBI is especially important if the infringement involves websites violating federal crimes, such as cyberstalking or identify theft.

In addition, if a website violates the privacy policy posted on the website, you can also report the violation to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Instead of struggling alone, you should always seek legal help. If you cannot afford legal services, you can try to find free legal services from legal aid organizations, law firm pro bono programs, community legal clinics, courthouse self-help centers, state and local bar associations.

It is advisable to search online or call the local bar association for information on the availability of these services in your area.

Fight Against Cyber Bullies

Because of Charlotte Laws’ continuous efforts in going after Moore, the website met its demise in 2012. In 2014, Moore was arrested and charged with multiple counts of computer hacking and identity theft. He later pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison. Charlotte Laws has also helped to pass laws against intimate image abuse in 48 U.S. states. Although intimate image abuse laws in the United States vary by state, most have criminalized the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Some states classify it as a specific crime, such as “revenge porn,” while others prosecute it under existing laws relating to harassment, stalking or disorderly conduct.

Online humiliation and bullying is increasing and becoming more dangerous. From the IsAnyoneUp case in the United States to the Nth room case in Korea, in the digital era, anyone can become a target of public shaming. It’s up to each and every one of us to make the internet a better place and say no to cyberbullying, including by using IP laws.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Image ID: 206605284
Author: sbartsmediagmail. 


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of

Join the Discussion

One comment so far.