A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Mugshots

Mugshots-for-Ransom: An Update

By LASIS Staff

A recent story by reporter Zachary Edelman analyzed the legalities of pay-for-us-to-remove-your-mugshot-off-our-websites businesses.

Our conclusion: “In reality, the websites aren’t exposing anything or anyone. Rather, the mug shots are public records that anyone could find if they knew where to look. The websites are simply putting the pictures into focus, if you will. This might not sound ethical. But it may well be legal.

“So Google is taking action. In response to complaints from victims of mug shot highway robbery, on October 3 Google changed its algorithm so that these pay-to-delete mug shot websites no longer appear near the top of Google’s search results. Some credit card companies have decided to discontinue service with these sites, as well. Without the ability to collect payments from individuals wanting their pictures removed, the sites may be forced out of business.

“And that might be a better solution, at least in the short term, than any court can offer. Because a picture isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t get the right exposure.”

In today’s New York Times, The Haggler updates us with some good news, some bad news, and a bit of irony to go with your Sunday brunch.

The good news: Some of these websites seem to have closed shop. And (with the exception of Visa) credit cards are refusing to have anything to do with processing payments for the mugshot-removal transactions.

The bad news: The attorney who brought the class action against the mug-shots has received a death threat via email. The person who sent the death threat, which apparently used the kind of language the New York Times doesn’t publish, also posted reviews of the attorney’s work on a consumer complaint website, accusing Mr. Ciolek of racism, alcoholism, and, according to The Haggler, “a few other isms.”

And the irony:  These consumer sites charge big bucks to remove such reviews. Mr. Ciolek, therefore, is now suffering the very same fate his clients have suffered. You’ve heard of Method Acting? Mr. Ciolek is now the poster child of Method Lawyering.

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Monetizing Mug Shots: A Legal Analysis

By Zachary Edelman

A picture is worth a thousand words. And when that picture is a mug shot it might be worth a whole lot more.

That not so attractive mug shot of you (who are we kidding?) — that godawful shot of you –for a DWI that you prayed nobody would ever see? It’s the first thing that comes up in Google searches of your name, thanks to websites like JustMugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com and FindMugshots.com, which compile mug shots from public records and put them into easy-to-search databases. And they’re getting rich doing it. Some sites charge up to $400 to remove your photo from their database. The problem: Many people don’t have that kind of money. And even if they do, once they pay one site that incriminating photo just pops up on another one.

Some people have decided they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and are suing the websites purveying the embarrassing pics. After all, people demanding money to delete photographs – or else – is extortion, isn’t it?

A lawyer for BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com argues that the First Amendment protects the websites’ practices because mug shots are public records.

But Scott Ciolek, representing Ms. Lashaway and Mr. Kaplan, vehemently disagrees. He says the First Amendment argument is “logically false” adding that, “The law prohibits demanding money to stop embarrassing somebody”.

Many media outlets have reported on the lawsuit, but none have assessed its legal merits.

LASIS zooms in.

(more…)

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Mugshot of the Day

The LASIS Staff

An Arizona sheriff famous for his tough stance on immigration has a soft spot — for funny mugshots. He’s taken to posting them on his website and asking visitors to vote on the funniest ones.  He categorizes the mugshots by the type of crime committed.  All in good fun? Or a violation of arrestee’s rights?

A few months ago, LASIS wrote about a New Jersey township police department that was up to similar shenanigans.   And analyzed the legality.  Read it here.

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