The incident of celebrity photos being leaked on 4chan has everything to make it a fascinating law school exam question, a sociological novel, or a Supermarket tabloid–all wrapped in one.
Let’s begin with the Supermarket tabloid.
- Naked celebrities
- Doing what normal people do (taking NSFW images with their iPhones), without their makeup etc.
- The underbelly of the Internet
- Bitcoin!! The new digital currency’s first celebrity scandal?
- Anticipation of new photos
- Law enforcement
And let’s turn to the sociological novel.
- Insecurities about digital life
- Victorian sensibilities about sex (and women having it)
- The privacy standards we as a society should allow celebrities (or not)
- Blaming the victim (the women for taking photos)
- Hypocrisy (also blaming the women for taking photos)
- The role of companies like Apple in our lives (and their obligations)
- Cloud computing and privacy
- How being leaked without permission and forbidden to share make them either more or less appealing to people
Then there’s the law school exam. We have interesting questions of:
- Speech versus privacy in the digital age (the right of some to share the photos and others not to have their photos shared).
- Speech versus privacy for public figures in the digital age.
- Speech versus civility/harassment online, particularly towards women (see Without My Consent).
- Speech versus degradation of women (remember the debates typified in the Hudnut case).
- Private speech power: what principles should private speech platforms like Twitter and reddit adopt regarding speech, privacy, and civility, and when should they be liable for making the wrong call.
- Whether these private speech platforms have too much or too little say regarding our speech and/or privacy today.
- Whether the platforms should distinguish between sharing the photos for news value or prurient value.
If you talk to lawyers at the web companies, they’ll be quick to say there are 10 other hard questions they have to answer every day; this is just the tip of the iceberg. I just published an article in the Harvard Law Review about free expression on Internet platforms like Twitter and I’m sometimes asked my thoughts when Twitter bans photos or videos (LA Times, Fox Business, etc.) Since Twitter is suspending accounts for sharing Jennifer Lawrence’s
leaked stolen photos, I might get questions, but the questions (above) will be more interesting than the answers I’d give.
And there are also security engineering and personal security-practices exams in here too, but I’m a lawyer and will leave that to technologists.