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San Diego Man Found Guilty In Revenge Porn Trial

10News

Kevin Bollaert, who ran a revenge porn website from his Pacific Beach home, listens in San Diego Superior Court as a jury finds him guilty on multiple counts of identity theft and extortion, Feb. 2, 2015.

Aired 2/3/15 on KPBS News.

Jurors delivered guilty verdicts Monday in the trial of a San Diego man who ran a revenge porn website.

Jurors delivered guilty verdicts Monday in the trial of a San Diego man who ran a revenge porn website. After more than two days of deliberations, the jury found Kevin Bollaert guilty on multiple counts of identity theft and extortion.

According to evidence presented at trial, Bollaert netted at least $30,000 running YouGotPosted.com out of his Pacific Beach apartment. The site featured thousands of nude photos, mostly of women, often uploaded by their ex-boyfriends without their consent.

The photos were tagged with personal information about the victims, including their names, addresses, workplaces, phone numbers and links to social media profiles. Several women — and some men — testified they were harassed by anonymous trolls and had their reputations ruined as a result.

"This harm is never going to go away for these victims," said Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin during closing arguments in San Diego Superior Court. She called Bollaert "perverse" and "sadistic."

At trial, one woman described being kicked out of her home. A law student said her school's honor board called her in for a hearing after Google results on her name were tarnished. Another victim reported feeling so traumatized she checked into a psychiatric hospital and attempted suicide.

Most victims said they'd shared the photos privately with a significant other, understanding they'd be kept secret. But others said they'd never shared nude photos with anyone and had no idea how the images ended up online.

In order to remove the photos, victims turned to another website administered by Bollaert, ChangeMyReputation.com. That's where he charged hundreds of dollars to take down the photos, though some victims were able to get them removed without payment after hiring a lawyer.

The facts about Bollaert's online activity went mostly uncontested by the defense.

"Many things that happened in this case were disgusting," Deputy Public Defender Emily Rose-Weber acknowledged. But she maintained Bollaert's innocence, saying, "It's gross, it's offensive, but it's not illegal."

The trial hinged on whether Bollaert was a "content provider" or merely the proprietor of an online service other people used to break the law.

Austin said Bollaert "absolutely knew these photos were being submitted illegally." She argued he actively reviewed submissions and willfully used them to extort victims.

"It's not about free speech," Austin said. "The defendant was in no way providing a public service."

Rose-Weber countered by arguing her client should be granted the same legal immunity as other websites like Google and Facebook, which typically aren't held legally responsible when third parties use their services to issue threats or post defamatory content.

"All of the harassment in this case came from third parties," Rose-Weber said.

The jurors disagreed, though they were unable to reach a verdict on a conspiracy charge and one count of identity theft. Bollaert could be sentenced to up to 24 years in prison.

"It's a breakthrough case," said University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron, who has written extensively on revenge porn and the law. "It sends a powerful message to the sites that are up and running still that we're not going to treat this as something we ignore, but as a criminal matter."

Citron said Bollaert is the first website operator to be successfully prosecuted for trafficking in revenge porn.

Legal experts closely watched Bollaert's case. Advocates for victims of online harassment hoped to see a crackdown on revenge porn purveyors, while other scholars questioned whether his scheme warranted criminal charges.

Many states have moved to criminalize revenge porn in recent years, but Bollaert was not charged under the law California passed in 2013. That law only applies to those who directly upload someone else's private photos. And, in any case, Bollaert's activities predated its passage.

Another man who ran a similar revenge porn operation had his website shut down last week, but avoided jail by settling with the Federal Trade Commission. At least one conviction has been made against a California man who posted a topless photo of his ex-girlfriend on her employer's Facebook page.

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