A woman who had sexually explicit self-portraits uploaded onto the internet after her mobile phone was stolen has won a landmark legal judgement forbidding anyone from sharing the photos online.
The case has taken the best part of three years to wind its way through the courts and centres around the thorny question of whether the judiciary can stop the dissemination of information once it has leaked onto the often unregulated world of the internet.
According to a judgement published yesterday the woman – who is only named in court papers as AMP – had her phone stolen while she was at university in June 2008. The phone contained sexually explicit images which were meant solely for sharing between her and her boyfriend at the time.
Soon after the phone went missing the images were uploaded onto a Dutch website alongside a link to her Facebook profile and a number of personal details. Internet users alerted her to the fact that the images were out there and the website took the photos down after they were contacted by AMP’s lawyers.
The judgement reveals that AMP was then contacted on Facebook by a man called Nils Henrik-Derimot, who threatened to expose her identity and distribute the photos more widely if she didn’t add him as a friend on Facebook. AMP deleted Mr Henrik-Derimot’s messages and blocked his profile.
A short while later she learned that the photos had resurfaced on a popular “bit torrent” site – which allows users to share files quickly by downloading small fragments of larger files that are later pieced back together. The files had also been uploaded with her name attached, meaning only those who knew the identity of AMP and that the photos were out there were likely to find them.
Lawyers acting on behalf of AMP went to court to try and get an injunction forbidding anyone from helping to disseminate the files. Judges are often reluctant to issue injunctions against information that has become so available it is impossible to stop – as was seen from last year’s rows over Twitter where injunctions were routinely flouted.
In this case AMP’s lawyers argued that because their client was not a celebrity, the number of people sharing the photographs of her were small and that they were mainly based in Britain and the EU. They added that their identities were largely traceable and could therefore be served with the injunction.
Mr Justice Ramsey agreed. “This is not a case where press freedom is at issue but it concerns the rights of individuals, not yet identified, to receive and impart information for which the Claimant has a right to privacy,” he ruled. “I am in no doubt that the balance falls strongly in favour of the rights of the Claimant to have her privacy respected.”