Friday, November 16, 2012
BOB GARFIELD: Late last year, I spoke to Hunter Moore, then the proprietor of a website called “Is Anyone Up” The website’s formula, which garnered Moore a lot of vitriol, a lot of traffic and, therefore, a lot of ad revenue, was to upload nude pictures of people without their consent and post their names and links to their online accounts at places like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
This April, Moore took down his website, amid very bad press and rumors of an FBI investigation. Since then, various copycat sites have come and gone. The latest is the creatively named “Is Anybody Down,” the brainchild of two entrepreneurs named Craig Brittain and Chance Trahan. While Is Anybody Down uses the same content formula as Is Anyone Up, nude pictures tied to real names, often without the models’ consent, First Amendment Attorney Marc Randazza finds that Trahan and Brittain have added a little twist.
MARC RANDAZZA: They put up a companion site that was for David Blade, III, Attorney at Law. And for $250 he would be able to convince that site to take down your pictures.
BOB GARFIELD: So you open up Is Anybody Down, you see a picture, which one night you drunkenly sent to a boyfriend, now an ex-boyfriend, and then there is this ad for a law firm that will help you take down that picture.
MARC RANDAZZA: Yes. There was just something about that ad that struck me as strange, especially in that they guaranteed success, which no lawyer will ever do. First, I, I did a search for David Blade across the country, to see where this guy was licensed, and I found one David Blade in Florida who had no idea what I was talking about. And this guy claimed to be licensed in New York. So New York has a public database of all of its attorneys, and there is no attorney by the name of David Blade there. David Blade does not exist. It is one of two people. It is either Chance Trahan , one of the co-owners of the site, or Craig Brittain, who lives in Colorado. One of these two guys is actually David Blade.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, why do you believe that this supposed lawyer with the 70s porn star name of David Blade [LAUGHS] is, in fact, one of the owners of “Is Anybody Down” site?
MARC RANDAZZA: I’d e-mailed David Blade and Mr. Brittain, and their websites are hosted at the same obscure webhost, in the same IP range. Their e-mails are coming from the same exact IP address, the same MAC address. So unless Mr. Brittain and Mr. Blade were both standing in the same room taking turns at the exact same keyboard, they’re the same person.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Is Anybody Down has figured a way to generate revenue, to get money out of the very people whose pictures it's publishing without their consent. You say there's a word for that kind of synergy. What's that word?
MARC RANDAZZA: If you are trying to take money from somebody for something you don’t otherwise have a right to, that’s extortion. Now, they’ve accused me of extortion, hilariously enough, because I gave them a chance before I went public with this and said that if you give everybody their money back and take down the pictures of the people who are not voluntarily on that site, then I’ll go away. They said that that was extortion.
BOB GARFIELD: What do you think is going on with these guys?
MARC RANDAZZA: They thought they had a way to make some money, and they have absolutely no, no morals. The thought of taking somebody and involuntarily making them a porn star, involuntarily putting their, their pictures out there, that's bad enough. But when you add to it that they pay people to find out the photograph subject’s identity, where they live, if you look on these postings you’re gonna find a significant number of them have even their home phone numbers posted on it.
BOB GARFIELD: You are not what anybody would describe as a blue nose.
Au contraire, you have built your career as something close to First Amendment absolutist, in defense of pornographers. But you have a couple of basic rules about who you will represent.
MARC RANDAZZA: Look, I have two rules for pornography. It must be of adults and it must be of consenting subjects. Other than that, anything goes, as far as I’m concerned, in a free country. If it doesn't meet Mark Randazza’s standard for what's moral, it must be bad.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] So what’s gonna happen here, Marc?
MARC RANDAZZA: You know, I put out an offer that I would represent victims of the site pro bono, and I’ve gotten a, a lot of responses.
BOB GARFIELD: So you’re undercutting David Blade III [LAUGHS] by 250 bucks. Your price point is zero bucks.
MARC RANDAZZA: I’m a really lucky person. I get to do cases that I believe in, I make a good living at it and I think I have a responsibility to give something back to people who couldn’t otherwise afford me, who need my help.
But what's really cool is I got an overwhelming number of e-mails from attorneys in states where I’m not licensed, saying. “I’m here with you, if you have anybody that wants to bring suit in this state.” Now, I’ve talked to a number of the victims and said, “Look, you realize, you pay this guy the 250 bucks, it goes away and that's it. You get into a lawsuit here, your neighbors and friends and family are gonna know about this. I am not gonna be able to protect your privacy, and each one of them has said, “I don't care, what's right is right.” I even told them there's probably no money in this ‘cause these guys don't have any money. They still didn't care. Every single one of the victims said, “I need to stand up so that the next girl doesn't go through this.” So it’s really reaffirmed my faith in humanity. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Marc, it's been an adventure. Thank you very much.
MARC RANDAZZA: Anytime.
BOB GARFIELD: Attorney Marc Randazza blogs at the Legal Satyricon.
Craig Brittain agreed to talk to us only on the condition that we make no mention of Mark Randazza in our interview, but there was plenty more to discuss. Brittain has written online that his long-term goal is to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. So I thought I'd ask him this:
BOB GARFIELD: Is public shaming of people in their most indiscreet moments, is that how you want to make your fortune?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: It’s part of a progressive cause. We believe that a lot of the laws governing nudity around the world, and especially here in the US, should be changed. We live in an era where people are judged through these pictures. My eventual goal is that everyone will have public information posted about them, preferably naked, that it’ll be a normal thing. It’ll no longer be associated with stigma or shame or humiliation, but it will be normal, in about ten years.
BOB GARFIELD: I don’t – I, I literally don't understand what you're – what you’re trying to say.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: Well, let me – let me explain. Most of these people aren’t really upset that they’re being seen naked. They’re really upset that their boss might see or that a close friend or family member might see and that they might be judged. My point is eventually that employers will have to change their policies, friends and fellow members will have to change the way they look at people.
BOB GARFIELD: How many martyrs to the cause will you create along the way?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: These are not victims. These are people that have decided to publicly transmit their own information.
BOB GARFIELD: Of course, they’re victims. The moment you put them up for public display, they, by definition, are victims because they did not sign on for that.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: I don’t believe that’s true.
BOB GARFIELD: Does your mother know what you do for a living?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: They know, and my parents don’t really care. They understand that we’re in one of the toughest economic periods in the history of this country right now. A lot of people’s backs are against the wall.
BOB GARFIELD: This is not a decision that you can make lightly, to go into this – business. Did you wrestle with your conscience?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: We’ve tried to run a thousand different businesses. Here’s a direct quote from one of our – one of the people that’s making all these comments about us and saying what we’re doing is big and evil. He said, and I quote, “Journalism is a lazy, unethical profession.” And we at one point both attempted to be journalists. We attempted to be Internet programmers. We attempted to be anything under the sun that we could after applying for job after job and being turned down. And this is kind of a last resort.
BOB GARFIELD: I’m wondering if you possess a modicum of empathy for the people who get up in the morning and find that their pictures are displayed naked on the Web and that if their lives aren’t destroyed, they’re seriously harmed?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: I have also been posted. I’ve been posted through a bunch of different websites. They posted my home address, they posted my family members’ names, they posted naked photos of me. So I do know exactly how those people feel, actually.
BOB GARFIELD: And?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: And I don’t send naked pictures of myself to strangers.
BOB GARFIELD: Why not?
CRAIG BRITTAIN: Well, you know, you could – you could wind up on websites like the one I have or, you know, worse – there are worse people out there than us. We’re being the focus of this, like we’re evil or like we’re manipulative or we’re exploiting people. And that’s not true. The truth is that there’s a lot of actual predators out there that are dangerous.
BOB GARFIELD: Craig, I – I’m asking you this man-to-man.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: Do something else. You can’t rationalize it.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: I can’t rationalize starving either.
BOB GARFIELD: You know what? Starve.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: No.
BOB GARFIELD: Stand on the median strip of the highway and beg. There’s more dignity in that –
- than in what you’re doing now.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: I tried that. I wasn’t good at that either.
BOB GARFIELD: I just want to thank you for – gettin’ on the phone with us.
CRAIG BRITTAIN: Well, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Craig Brittain, with his partner Chance Trahan, is the proprietor of isanybodydown.com.
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BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary and Doug Anderson, with more help from Lita Martinez and Ariel Stulberg. And it was edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Ken Feldman.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find transcripts and read our fabulous blog at onthemedia.org. You can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and you can e-mail us at email@example.com. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.