Firm threatened with lawsuit over failure to remove hacked photos from subsidiaries including YouTube and BlogSpot
Lawyers representing celebrities whose private photos were published by hackers have threatened to sue Google for $100m, accusing the company of “making millions from the victimisation of women”.
Private images of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Rihanna and others were widely distributed on the internet last month in the largest celebrity hacking scandal in history.
The top entertainment lawyer Martin Singer has written to Google demanding that the company pay for its “blatantly unethical behaviour”. His Los Angeles-based firm Lavely & Singer represents more than a dozen of the women affected, the director Bryan Singer and the actors John Travolta and Charlie Sheen.
In the letter, addressed to Google’s co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and other top executives, and first published by the New York Post’s Page Six website, Singer accused the tech giant of failing “to act expeditiously and responsibly to remove the images” and of “knowingly accommodating, facilitating, and perpetuating the unlawful conduct”.
“Google’s ‘do no evil’ motto is a sham,” he wrote.
“Google knows the images are hacked stolen property, private and confidential photos and videos unlawfully obtained and posted by pervert predators who are violating the victims’ privacy rights … Yet Google has taken little or no action to stop these outrageous violations.”
Singer’s letter, sent on behalf of his unnamed clients, claims that he sent a notice to the company to remove the images four weeks ago, but that many are still available on Google sites such as BlogSpot and YouTube.
He said that after the images were released over the Labor Day holiday weekend, his office had written to various website operators and internet service providers (ISPs) demanding that the images be taken down under the digital millennium copyright act (DMCA). The DMCA requires tech firms to “expeditiously” remove unlawful images from their servers.
“The vast majority of those sites and ISP/hosts, all of which are much smaller than Google, with far fewer staff and resources, complied with their obligations under the DMCA and removed the images within an hour or two of receiving our DMCA notice,” he wrote.
Google, by contrast, had “recklessly allowed these blatant violations to continue in conscious disregard of our clients’ rights”.
“Because the victims are celebrities with valuable publicity rights you do nothing, nothing but collect millions of dollars in advertising revenue … as you seek to capitalise on this scandal rather than quash it. Like the NFL, which turned a blind eye while its players assaulted and victimised women and children, Google has turned a blind eye while its sites repeatedly exploit and victimise these women.”
A Google spokesman said: “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.”
If Singer follows through on his threat to go to court, it will not be the first time Google has faced legal action over inadvertently facilitating the spread of nude photos. In March this year, Hollie Toups, 34, sued both Yahoo and Google for failing to remove links to pictures of herself hosted on a revenge porn site.
Like Singer, Toups alleged that she had sent Google proper notice, requesting links to the pictures be taken down, but that the company had refused to do so.