How does copyright law apply to revenge pornography?

(This page provides an overview of copyright’s relevance to revenge pornography and does not constitute legal advice.)

What many people know about copyright law comes from the anti-piracy warnings shown at the beginning of films, warning that the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. As a result, it is easy to think that only movies, songs, books or other products in the public domain are copyrighted. That is not true. Anybody who creates an artwork, be it a movie clip, photograph or even a naked selfie, owns the copyright to it. This is true whether you ever intend to share it publicly or monetize it. 

Estimates show that around 80% of images published as online image-based sexual abuse were originally taken as “selfies,” meaning that the person in the image also holds the copyright. If your copyrighted images have been disseminated online or in other forums without your consent, you can use copyright law to remove your images, seek redress against websites that have been unwilling to comply with takedown notices, and potentially receive money for damages. Sharing a copyrighted image with a small number of people – such as your significant other – does not invalidate your exclusive copyright to the image. 

If an intimate image that you took has been published or shared without your consent, your copyright may have been violated. It need not be officially registered for you to be able to file a takedown request with the website. While the process for submitting a takedown request differs among websites, you will be able to report the image and explain how it has been improperly used.  

Copyright also applies to content that is produced on sites like OnlyFans or Chaturbate. In one of our recent cases, we worked with a client who had briefly streamed sexual content through one of these sites to a paying, limited audience. One of the viewers recorded these live streams without our client’s consent, and later posted the content on Twitter in order to harass our client. Once we informed the perpetrator that he had violated the victim’s copyright, all offending posts and the account sharing the images were immediately removed. OnlyFans’ Terms of Use also warns users that they cannot “copy, reproduce, distribute [or] modify” OnlyFans content.

Understanding your ownership of copyright to your own intimate images can be a powerful self-help tool for regaining control after being victimized by image-based sexual abuse. To avoid liability for copyright infringement, websites must respond promptly to reports of copyright violations. If you have already been submitting takedown requests without success, you may want to consult with one of our lawyers to explore your options. If you are interested in speaking with one of our experienced attorneys, please contact us to book a consultation.