Vlogger Chrissy Chambers secures damages in revenge porn settlement – Iain Wilson

21 01 2018

In a widely-reported settlement, the American vlogger Chrissy Chambers has recovered damages from her former British boyfriend – anonymised in the High Court proceedings as “DCR”.

Background

In 2013 Ms Chambers became aware through a friend that she featured in a pornographic video online.  Ms Chambers had no recollection of the video having been filmed (or its existence), but was able to establish that it showed her and her former British boyfriend (the Defendant) having sex in her Atlanta apartment in 2009, shortly before the end of their relationship.  She had been 18 at the time. The Defendant’s face was never in shot.  The videos had been uploaded to the internet in December 2012 and January 2013.

The video – one of six in total – included Ms Chambers’ name and, to her horror, had been copied across a number of pornographic websites and viewed hundreds of thousands of times.  The inclusion of her name was particularly problematic as this meant that the videos were picked up by search engines and thus naturally reached those who had any interest in her (including her fan base/subscribers).

Claim

In March 2016 Ms Chambers sued for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and harassment. Ms Chambers claimed that the publication of the videos had caused significant damage to her online brand, losing her subscribers who believed that she had intentionally become involved in online pornography. She additionally asserted that she had suffered considerable distress at the knowledge the videos had been viewed and scrutinised by a large number of acquaintances and strangers.  This had caused Ms Chambers emotional and psychological difficulties, flashbacks and nightmares which had resulted in her being diagnosed with PTSD.

Settlement

Terms of settlement were reached with the Defendant.  These included:-

  • An admission by the Defendant that his uploading of the videos to a pornographic website amounted to a misuse of private information and breach of confidence.
  • An agreement to pay Ms Chambers substantial damages. The sum was not disclosed.
  • An agreement to pay Ms Chambers’ legal costs.
  • An agreement to assign Ms Chambers the copyright in the videos

Ms Chambers’ lawyers appeared before Sir David Eady in the High Court on 17 January 2018 to make a unilateral statement in court. This included reference to the Defendant regretting the serious distress and suffering he had caused.  A copy of the full statement can be found here.

Comment

The case has been heralded by some as a landmark case creating an important legal precedent. Technically this is not correct: a settlement does not create legal precedent (the court has not ruled on the dispute) and the High Court has heard several ‘revenge porn’ claims over the past decade (see for instance Contostavlos v Mendahun [2012] EWHC 850 (QB)). As media practitioners will know, ‘revenge porn’ claims are brought (or threatened) and settled all the time. What makes this case stand out is Ms Chambers’ brave decision to bring the claim in her own name (she would almost certainly have been granted anonymity by the court) and to actively promote it, including by making a unilateral statement in court. Typically, revenge porn cases are settled quickly and quietly with neither party wanting publicity. Ms Chambers decision to litigate in the open will no doubt result in a greater public awareness of civil remedies. Whilst there is now a revenge porn criminal offence on the statute books (see our blog here), its scope is relatively narrow and is not intended as a mechanism for victims securing compensation.

From a practical point of view, the acquisition of the copyright in the videos as part of the settlement is a smart move.  The majority of the pornographic websites hosting the content are likely to be based in the USA where, whilst there is no Article 8, copyright is king. These websites tend to respond promptly to valid copyright requests.  Ownership of the copyright will assist Ms Chambers’ lawyers if any ‘clean up’ work is required in the future.

Where the civil law will not help victims is with prospective claims against defendants of straw (i.e. those who cannot meet adverse cost orders or damages awards). Such a claim will not only fail to create any meaningful legal precedent (there is no doubt that this type of conduct is unlawful), but will normally result in a pyrrhic and expensive victory. The real legal battle on the horizon is the extent to which online platforms could be held to be liable for publishing videos and images (particularly after they have been put on notice of content or repeat offenders). A recent high profile settlement involving Facebook in Northern Ireland, and the deluge of claims this is likely to bring, suggest such a case might not be too far off.

This post originally appeared on the Brett Wilson LLP media law blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.


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21 01 2018
daveyone1

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