Legal implications of the Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak

Celebrity, NakedLaw, News

While every celebrity yearns for a little exposure, the events transpiring over the weekend transcended the acceptable boundaries of life in the public eye – causing a number of actresses and models to experience an undeserved violation of their intimate personal property.

Legally speaking, obtaining and disseminating private photos through unlawful hacking procedures is not only creepy and disturbing, it’s also illegal and possibly tortious. So, how will the law work to unravel this latest technological crime spree? The FBI is investigating the incident but for now, here’s what we know:

Emerging details of celebrity photo hacking scandal

According to various tech-savvy insiders, the celebrity photos – which contain sexually explicit, private images stored to stars’ phones and iCloud files – may have been hacked several weeks, or even months, ago and stored in an expansive private cache.

As far as the perpetrator is concerned, there are several theories floating around. For instance, a 27-year-old Georgia man, Bryan Hamade, was under the microscope for allegedly masterminding the hack – but has vehemently denied any involvement beyond the mere resale of the celebrity images. Many sources have speculated the involvement of several hackers, not just one person. The details are too uncertain to confirm at this point but the FBI and Apple, Inc. are investigating.

Regardless, the photos allegedly originally appeared on AnonIB’s “stolen photos” and “celebs” boards – which from there spread quickly across 4chan, Reddit, Imgur and Twitter.

Assigning responsibility

Hacking is a crime, so the perpetrators of this incident will undoubtedly face criminal culpability for essentially “stealing” these images and strewing them about public networks. In addition, there are several civil law violations looming against not only the responsible hacker(s), but possibly the entities responsible for safekeeping and safeguarding the images.

Much of the legal liability potentially affecting Apple, custodian of the iCloud technology, will depend upon the language of its terms and conditions policy, which presumably protects users from the threat and risk of the public dispersal of their private documents and images.

From there, the nature and extent of civil liabilities against the hackers will depend upon the unique facts and circumstances pertaining to each celebrity, the nature of the photos, the level of embarrassment involved and whether the hackers (or retailers) achieved any sort of pecuniary gain as a result of the celebrity images. Possible civil claims against the hackers could include:

  • Unlawful use of name or likeness for commercial gain;
  • Defamation (if images are altered or “Photoshopped” in any way);
  • Infliction of emotional distress;
  • Misappropriation;
  • Invasion of privacy;
  • Trespass or conversion

Protecting the goods

Celebrity or not, no one wants their personal photographs, documents and cell phone contents leaked to the world. One suggestion, as offered by Google guru Matt Cutts, is to always insist upon a two-factor authentication when password-protecting your digital belongings.

Two-factor authentication requires input of a personal password, along with a code or password sent directly to a personal device like a cell phone. Keep in mind that the two-factor authentication is often an option available on websites, and is not necessarily mandatory in all instances. To protect yourself – and your stuff – be sure to enable this option anytime it’s available.