"Revenge porn" website operator Kevin Bollaert has been found guilty of 27 out of 31 counts, including identity theft and extortion, and faces up to 24 years in prison.
Bollaert made at least $30,000 from the website UGotPosted.com which hosted thousands of nude photos, mostly women and usually uploaded by ex-boyfriends. The photos often came with related personal information including their names, addresses, telephone numbers and social media handles.
During the trial, several victims testified about the harassment they received as a result of Bollaert's actions, and the damage to their reputations.
Bollaert's public defender, however, argued that while his actions were "immoral" as well as "gross and offensive", they were not illegal because he did not post pictures himself, but only allowed others to post them.
The jury at San Diego Superior Court did not agree and convicted him on almost all counts.
It is the first time that someone who runs a revenge porn website has been convicted. Just last week, Craig Brittain reached agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission to delete the thousands of photos he posted on his IsAnybodyDown.com website and to cease posting nude photos in future without explicit permission. But because it was his first offense, Brittain escaped without jail time or even a fine.
In December, Noe Iniguez was the first person to be convicted under California' anti-revenge-porn law and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years' probation for posting topless pictures of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. But in that case, Iniguez either took or personally posted the pictures. Bollaert's conviction is the first that brings a website operator to book.
The legal argument broke down to whether Bollaert was a "content provider" – and so legally responsible for what appeared on the site – or just the provider of an online service that others used to break the law, in which case he was entitled to "safe harbor" protections.
The prosecutor argued that Bollaert not only knew that the photos were illegal but – crucially –reviewed the submissions and then used them to extort money from the victims. Bollaert ran a second website alongside UGotPosted at ChangeMyReputation.com that offered to remove images for a fee (roughly $350). The same approach was used by Craig Brittain.
Unsurprisingly, Bollaert, who has previously told his local news station KCRG, "I don't feel like I've committed any crime", faced some tough statements in court, with Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin calling him "sadistic" and "perverse."
The facts of the case were not disputed by the defense, with the public defender even calling parts of the case "disgusting."
The case has been watched closely, particularly on the issue of whether Bollaert's actions were criminal. Victims' groups have been pushing hard for new laws that make this sort of online activity illegal, where others have argued that the current crop of laws being passed are worded too loosely and may infringe free speech.
There are now 13 US states with some version of anti-revenge-porn law on their books, although a number of other states have persistently rejected such a law. And just today, the UK announced it was planning to introduce a law that would make it illegal to post pictures with sexual content without that person's permission, with offenders facing two-year jail sentences.
There is also another case going through California's courts regarding revenge porn – referred to officially as "cyber exploitation." Casey Meyering of Sand Springs, Oklahoma was arrested in February 2014 for allegedly running the website WinByState.com, which posted stolen pictures and encouraged former partners to post pictures they had of exes. The site charged victims $250 to remove the photos.
Meyering fought attempts to bring him to California and lost. Following a preliminary hearing in September, his bail was set at $100,000. He is being held in Napa County, California and his trial is due to start on February 23.
As for Kevin Bollaert, his sentencing is set for April 3. ®