By Tom McGhee
Denver Post Staff Writer
Photos that Melissa Lease, above, sent to her husband appeared on
Parker resident Melissa Lease discovered one downside of the Internet
age when a friend told her that revealing photos she sent to her
husband were appearing on social networking site MySpace.com.
While her husband was at home from a tour of duty in Iraq, Lease said,
someone in his unit rifled through his belongings, found the pictures,
which showed her posing in a bra and panties, and posted them.
"These pictures were made for my husband and no one else. Someone
typed my name on MySpace and they popped up, and (my friend) came up
to me and said there are inappropriate pictures of me and she asked me
if I (posted) them," said Lease, a cosmetology student at Aveda
Institute in Denver. "It was just a really uncomfortable situation."
MySpace has removed the pictures.
Unwelcome attention via websites is becoming more common as social
interaction migrates to cyberspace, said Leslie Flint, legal research
associate with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. "In the
past, it would be gossip or note-passing. This sort of thing happened,
but it wasn't on the same scale."
No definitive numbers are available on how frequently privacy
invasions or smear campaigns occur on the Internet. But Eric
P. Robinson of the Media Law Resource Center in New York said about 60
lawsuits and criminal complaints have been filed nationwide against
bloggers, most of them in the past two years.
This year, courts have rendered judgments against individuals for
making defamatory comments on the Internet in cases in Florida,
Georgia and North Dakota. Lawsuits are pending in Colorado,
California, Texas and Utah.
Earlier this month, Tony Perri,head of Boulder's public-access TV
station, Channel 54, filed a criminal complaint alleging a former
producer at the station, Jann Scott, put up a MySpace page that
Scott denied the charge in a telephone interview last week.
"Perri accused me of it, but I don't know anything about it," said
Scott, who added that he had seen the Perri page before MySpace took
it down. "I understand it as parody, protected free speech, so I am
not worried about it or him."
The text on the page was vile, Perri said, accusing him of being a
"suck up," and suggesting he engaged in a sexual act with members of
the Boulder City Council.
The page went up after Perri suspended Scott for launching a campaign
of harrassment after some of his shows didn't appear in the time slots
MySpace, which is owned by media and entertainment giant News Corp.,
says it looked into the postings involving Perri and Lease and had
"We take our customer service and safety procedures seriously and will
continue to investigate ways to make them as efficient as possible,"
said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace chief of security.
Blogs, interactive websites such as MySpace and even sites that offer
book reviews such as Amazon.com can be used to publish libelous
material. But federal law meant to protect free speech on the Web
makes it difficult for victims of unwelcome or even defamatory
attention to take successful legal action against owners of a website
where it appears, said Phil Weiser, a professor of law and
telecommunications at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Federal lawmakers wanted to maximize the amount of free speech on the
Internet when they passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, he said. So
the act protects Internet service providers and websites from libel
and other laws that govern what can appear.
"In general, the Internet is not subject to rules that encourage a
closer editing of content; it is a wide-open environment," Weiser
said. "This is an enormous challenge in the information age that we
haven't been able to confront."
Anyone who wants to file a civil suit will have to pay a lawyer, and
even if they win, there is a good chance the judgment will be more
than they can collect, experts said.
Susan Scheff, of Weston, Fla., recently won $11.3 million in a
defamation suit against a Louisiana woman who posted messages on the
Internet accusing her of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a
"I never expect to collect $11.3 million," said Scheff, who took a
second mortgage on her home to pay the legal tab. "She went out there
and discredited me and destroyed me and my family on the Internet. ...
Whenever you Googled me, you saw these things."
Scheff has a business called Parents Universal Resource Experts that
helps parents of troubled children find services such as schools.
Since her case became public, Scheff has received numerous phone calls
and e-mails from others who have been maligned on the Web.
"I am amazed at the number of people who contacted me," she said. "I
didn't realize it was such an epidemic."