Alicia had known John (names have been changed) since sixth grade. They were close friends for 10 years and dated for four years. Eventually, Alicia found out John cheated on her and they broke up. Unfortunately, Alicia’s relationship with John did not end there. One day, Alicia received an email from an address she did not recognize. The message said there were nude photos of her posted online. Alicia immediately visited the websites. To her horror, she found dozens of intimate photos of herself posted along with her full name, where she lived, and the name of her college. Alicia recognized the photos. She sent them to John when they were dating. Not long after the photos were posted, Alicia found a pile of nude photos dumped in front of her college dorm. Once, while shopping at a local department store, a stranger recognized her and told her he liked her photos.
Unfortunately, Alicia’s story is not uncommon. Posting intimate photos on the internet without the person’s permission is sometimes called revenge porn, image exploitation, or non-consensual porn, and it can be emotionally devastating. Thankfully, in New Jersey, there are laws to protect victims of revenge porn.
In New Jersey, sharing intimate photos of someone without their permission is considered harassment. Harassment is one of the 19 crimes of domestic violence, so you may be able to get a restraining order if someone shares or threatens to share intimate photos of you without your permission. To get a restraining order, you must have one of the following relationships with the person who posted your photos:
- You are or were married.
- You have child(ren) together.
- You are expecting a child together.
- You are both 18 or older and currently live together or lived together in the past.
- You are currently dating or previously dated the person.
A restraining order can only be filed against a person who is 18 years old or older. If you are successful in getting a restraining order, the court can order the defendant to stop posting photos of you online or sharing them with other people and to take down and delete existing photos.
To learn more about getting a restraining order in New Jersey, see How to Get a Restraining Order.
What if I cannot get a restraining order? Can the person who posted my photos be punished? Is it a crime?
Yes. In New Jersey, taking or sharing intimate images of private parts of the body and/or sexual acts without the person’s permission is an illegal invasion of privacy. This means anyone who takes intimate photos or videos of you without your permission has committed a crime. It also means that even if you gave somebody permission to take them or you took them yourself, they do not have permission to share them without your permission.
You do not need to have a special relationship with the person who posted your photo in order to press charges. Also, you can press charges even if you do not have proof that your ex-partner is the person who posted your photo. For example, even if the photos were posted with an anonymous name, if you only shared them with one person, and the prosecutor (the government lawyer handling your case) decides your case should go forward, s/he or the police can request a subpoena (court order requiring someone to provide information). The subpoena would require the internet service provider that hosts the website to provide information about the person who posted the photo. If found guilty, the person could be ordered to pay a fine up to $30,000 and sentenced to three to five years in prison. Also, if you do not have copyright ownership of the photos in question, you can ask the prosecutor to ask the court to transfer copyright ownership of the photos of you. (See below for more information about copyright.)
What is a copyright and what does it have to do with revenge porn?
A copyright is legal proof that you have the right to use and share something like photos, drawings, and other creative materials. Normally, the person who takes a photo is the copyright owner. So, if you took an intimate photo of yourself and sent it to your ex-partner, you are the copyright holder of that photo. If your partner took a photo of you, s/he owns the copyright to the photo. So, copyright ownership depends on who took the photo, not who is in the photo. Having copyright ownership of your photos makes it easier to have them taken down.
If you took your photos and you want proof that you are the copyright owner, you can register your photos with the government. You are not required to do this and it may not be recommended if your photos are intimate. But if you want to be sure that you have copyright protection down the road, you can register your photo by visiting the United States Copyright Office and selecting How to Register a Work. There, you will find more information about how to register your photo either online or by mail. If you use the Copyright Office’s online system, the cost is $35. If you choose to register your photos by sending forms to the Copyright Office, the cost is $65.
If you did not take the photos, but you have a restraining order, or have pressed charges against this person misusing them because of what s/he has done with your photos, you may ask the court to transfer copyright ownership to you.
I think my ex-partner may have posted my photo on several websites. How can I find all the websites where my photo has been posted?
You can find your photo online by doing a reverse image search on Google. Before searching, make sure the photos you want to find online are saved on your computer, a flash drive, or some other place that makes it possible for you to upload photos. To perform a reverse image search go to the Google Images page. Click on the small camera icon on the right side of the search box. (When you put your cursor on the camera icon, it will say “search by image.”) Next, select “upload an image” and select the saved photo file. This will NOT post your photo online; it simply allows Google to search for the image.
After you have performed the search, visit all of the websites where your photo appears. Print a copy of all the pages or write down the exact web address of each location.
How can I get a website to take down my photos?
Unfortunately, there is no law that requires websites to take down your photo. In most cases, getting your photo taken down will depend on the individual policy of the website and whether or not you have copyright ownership of your photo. Below are some steps you can take to have your photos removed.
You should take the following steps whether or not you have copyright:
- If the website has no information about removal. Find their contact information and tell them you would like your photo removed. It can be difficult to find the website’s contact information. You may have to look for small links at the bottom or top of the page. Sometimes the information is not labeled as contact information but can be found in links to the “administrator” or “about us” sections of the website. You should explain that the photos were posted without your permission and that you would like them removed immediately. If you have copyright of the photo you should let them know that as well.
If you ARE the copyright holder, you may be protected by a federal law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under the DMCA, it is illegal for websites to post copyrighted photos without permission. To have your copyrighted photo removed from the internet, you must send a notice of copyright infringement (an official notice that tells the website it has violated federal copyright law).
You can send notices of copyright infringement to:
- The website that posted your photo
- The company that hosts (gives space on the internet) the website
- Any search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) that allow the photo to appear when your name or personal information is searched.
See below for a detailed explanation of how to send a copyright infringement notice.
I am the copyright holder of my photo. How to I use the Digital Copyright Millennium Act to have it removed?
If you are the copyright holder, you are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and can send copyright infringement notices to the websites and search engines that publish your photo. When websites or host companies receive a copyright infringement notice, they are legally required to remove the photo. When a search engine receives a copyright infringement notice, it cannot make the website take down your photo but it must hide your image so it does not appear in search results. Below are the steps a copyright holder should take to have their photos removed:
- Contact the website directly. Start by directly contacting the website that has published your photo and ask them to remove it. In some cases, the website may cooperate and you will not need to send a copyright infringement notice. Read the section above to learn how to find the website’s contact information.
- If the website refuses to remove your photo or does not respond. Send a notice of copyright infringement by mail or e-mail. The law requires your notice to have certain information. First, you should clearly state that you are notifying the company of copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §512. Your email or letter must include:
- Your physical or electronic signature or a physical or electronic signature of somebody authorized to represent you
- Enough information for the website to locate the photos you want removed (exact web address where the photos appear and printed copies or descriptions of the photos)
- Information for the company to contact you (phone number, street address, email address)
- A statement that says you have not authorized the website to use your images. You must include the term “good faith.” For example, you could write, “I have a good faith belief that the use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner or its agent of the law.”
- A statement that says the information in your letter is true. It is important to include the exact words used in the law. For example, you could write, “Under the penalty of perjury, I state that the information contained in my complaint is accurate and I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright I claim is infringed.”
Make sure you keep copies of all the correspondence you send and receive.
- If you sent a notice of copyright infringement and the website does not remove your photo. In this case, you should send copyright infringement notices to popular search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing and to the web hosting company. Google and Bing have online forms you can use to send your copyright infringement notice. Yahoo! does not have a copyright infringement form online but does provide contact information. You can find the forms/contact information at:
To send a copyright notice to the web hosting company, you must find the hosting company’s contact information. You may be able to find contact information at Whois.com. To perform a search, copy and paste the web address of your photo. Then, using the contact information you find, send a copyright infringement notice with the information described above. Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send or receive.
I saw an advertisement for a service that will help me remove my photos. Should I pay a service to take down my photos?
No. This is a scam. Unfortunately, some websites have made deals with companies that offer to remove photos for a fee, and even allow these companies to advertise on their page in exchange for part of their removal fees—several hundred dollars in some cases. Some websites have posted advertisements for lawyers who do not even exist. There is no guarantee the photos will either be taken down or will stay down.
I want to get a restraining order and press charges against my partner, but I’ll lose my job if I miss work to go to court or talk to the police. How can I protect my rights and my job?
A new law called the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act) allows domestic violence victims and their parents, spouses, domestic/civil partners to take 20 days of unpaid leave to access the services they need. This means an employer cannot fire you for taking days off to handle matters related to domestic violence.
Under the NJ SAFE Act, you can take days off to:
- Seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries
- Obtain services from a victim services organization
- Obtain psychological or other counseling
- Participate in safety planning
- Seek legal assistance or other necessary remedies to ensure health and safety
- Attend criminal or civil court proceedings.
Your employer is allowed to ask you for documents that show you are a victim of domestic violence but must keep all of the documents confidential. If your employer asks you for documentation of abuse, you may provide:
- A temporary or final restraining order
- Paperwork from the municipal or county prosecutor
- Proof of conviction of the offender
- Medical records of the offense
- A certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist or director of a domestic violence agency/rape crisis center
- A letter from a social worker, clergy member, or other professional who has assisted you.
The NJ SAFE Act does not apply to all types of work situations. In order to qualify as an employee under the law, you must have worked for at least 12 months or 1,000 base hours. Also, your employer must have at least 25 employees for 20 or more weeks out of the year.
How can I avoid becoming a victim of revenge porn?
The only way to completely prevent being a victimized through revenge porn is to not take or share intimate photos of yourself. If you do decide to take intimate photos, think carefully before sharing them. Who are you sending them to? How well do you know the person? Can you really trust them? How would you feel about the photo being online? Unfortunately, an impulsive moment shared with the wrong person can have terrible consequences. A good rule of thumb is to avoid sharing any photos that you would be embarrassed to find on the internet.
Also, do not trust technology to delete photos. Files that have been deleted can easily be recovered. For example, “apps” like Snapchat that allow you to send messages that “disappear” are not always what they seem. Images sent through Snapchat are not really deleted and can be accessed later. There are apps that allow people to save the photo without notifying you. It is important to remember that you have control over your photos and you may send them to anyone you choose, but once a photo has been sent, you cannot choose what that person later decides to do with it.
If you have sent intimate photos to someone and you are afraid s/he may one day put them online, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. First, if you took the photos, you can register them with the United States Copyright Office. (For more information about how to do this, read the section above about copyrights.) This way, if you ever have a problem in the future, it will be easier for you to have photos taken down from the internet. Second, create search “alerts” on popular search engines like Google. You can set up an alert to email you whenever material associated with your name appears online. Finally, it may not be a good idea to delete or stop using your Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. If you remove your accounts and are not active online, your photos will be one of the first results to appear when somebody searches your name. If you remain active online, photos of you become harder to find because they are more likely to be “buried” in search results.
Ever since I found out my photos are online, I have been feeling down. Are there any resources or organizations that help victims of revenge porn?
Revenge porn can be personally and professionally devastating. If you are struggling with the effects of revenge porn, you are not alone and there are resources to help. Without My Consent is an organization that provides information and support to victims of revenge porn. There is also a national movement to create stricter laws that make it easier for victims to have their photos removed. End Revenge Porn is an organization that advocates for better laws to protect people from revenge porn. The organization also has resources for victims. Cyber Civil Rights Initiative also provides useful information about nonconsensual pornography.
Learn more about the law in New Jersey by reading information on this website. You can also read our guide, Domestic Violence: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey.
If you have questions or need legal help, call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. You may also apply online.
Other resources for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault
New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline
Provides confidential service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence
Visit New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence for more information about domestic violence and a list of services by county
New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault Hotline
Provides 24-hour access to confidential sexual violence advocates
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Provides confidential service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Visit their website for more information and live chat with a domestic violence advocate