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Google threatened with $100M lawsuit over nude celebrity photos, but case appears weak

Jeff John Roberts

A law firm representing “over a dozen female celebrities” who had their Apple iCloud accounts hacked is now taking aim at Google, saying the search giant faces massive liability for its alleged role in the distribution of private nude photos.

“Google is making millions and profiting from the victimization of women … If your wives, daughters or relatives were the victims of such blatant violations of basic human rights, surely you would take appropriate action,” says a letter signed by Hollywood lawyer, Martin Singer.

The letter, which claims Google disregarded its legal duties in order to cash in on advertising revenue, says the company could owe $100 million for refusing to remove images and links related to the hacked photos. The law firm doesn’t name its clients, but the letter presumably refers to people like Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna and other A-list celebrities who were victims of the hacking incident in early September.

Despite the dramatic accusations and the $100 million claim, however, the legal case against Google is weak. Like any other internet publisher, Google is largely shielded from the actions of its users, and is not responsible for the content of blog posts and search links.

In apparent effort to get around that shield, though, the letter suggests the celebrities have a copyright in the photos — which, if true, would require Google to remove them upon receiving a notice. According to reports, though, Google has been wrestling with who actually owned many of the nude “selfies.” Under the law, if a person didn’t take the photo or register it with the copyright office, they don’t have a legal right to demand a takedown.

So what’s really going on here? Is Google looking for legal loopholes in order to make a buck off the hacking victims? Almost certainly not. Instead, the company is trying to work within the shield laws that are essential to the operations of not just Google, but nearly every other website on the internet.

Update: Google issued the following statement:

“We’ve removed tens of thousands of pictures — within hours of the requests being made — and we have closed hundreds of accounts. The Internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them.”

Here’s the letter via the Hollywood Reporter:

Legal Ntc Ltr to Google 100114

Image copyright Alain Bachellier/Flickr.

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