Model Mayhem headed back to court, accused of not protecting their users, as new papers are filed

Jun 3, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Model Mayhem headed back to court, accused of not protecting their users, as new papers are filed

Jun 3, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The case of Jane Doe No. 14 v. Internet Brands, Inc. is one that many were following with great interest, and Internet giants like eBay and Facebook told the court that the lawsuit would have a “chilling effect” on the Internet.

While what happened to Doe was tragic, she felt that Model Mayhem were responsible for not warning her of the dangers from other members on the website.

Internet Brands purchased Model Mayhem from founders Donald and Taylor Waitt in August 2010. The Waitts sued Internet Brands for not paying them, to which Internet Brands responded by claiming that the Waitts had failed to disclose an ongoing criminal investigation into Lavont Flanders.

As part of Doe’s action against Model Mayhem, filed in 2012, she alleges that in February 2011, two men used the site to lure her to a fake audition. Upon arrival, she was drugged, and then raped with the acts recorded on video.

Lavont Flanders, along with Emerson Callum, were convicted of sex trafficking in Miami, and in February 2012 they were sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms in prison.

She claimed that the owners of Model Mayhem knew of the criminal activity, and failed to warn her or other users of the site, and now holds them liable.

The case was dismissed in August 2012 in a California District Court, on the grounds that Internet Brands were immune from prosecution under the Communications Decenct Act, 47 U.S.C. Section 230.

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

Basically, they’re not responsible for anything their users post or do as a consequence of using their service. This is in the same vein online classifieds sites, and forums aren’t responsible for users who fall victim to a scam.

In September 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Communications Decency Act did not bar Doe’s claim, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. In early 2015, the panel withdrew its opinion and agreed to rehear the case.

The court made a clear distinction between Doe’s failure to warn claim, and Section 230 of the CDA that provides liability immunity for website owners for content posted by it users. Doe’s negligent failure to warn claim did not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as the “publisher or speaker” of any information provided by a user, and therefore falls outside of Section 230.

Fast forward to now, and the panel again held that Doe’s case could proceed, with a new filing having taken place on 31st May, 2016.

Put simply, she’s not blaming them for what the pair did either on or off the site. She’s saying they should’ve warned their users that such people are using their site to find victims.

Again, what happened to this lady was absolutely tragic and nobody should ever have to go through anything like it, but to hold Model Mayhem responsible for not warning her that bad people use the Internet seems somewhat silly.

Regardless of what you may think of Model Mayhem, the best they could possibly have done at the time was to say “Hey, be careful out there”. Which is simple common sense when it comes to meeting people in person for the first time after having only ever spoken to them online.

They couldn’t exactly call out members who hadn’t been proven and convicted in court as guilty, even if the suspicions had ultimately been true.

That being said, Model Mayhem have started taking steps to help protect their users with the roll out of “Verified Credits“, at the expense of hindering newer users hoping to get their first shoot.

Now that the case is firing back up, it will be interesting to see how things progress. Sure, it could be argued that websites have a responsibility to protect their users, but one could equally argue that adults should be responsible for their own choices, and the research they do or don’t put into making them.

What are your thoughts on the case? Let us know in the comments.

[via BBC]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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8 responses to “Model Mayhem headed back to court, accused of not protecting their users, as new papers are filed”

  1. derek byrne Avatar
    derek byrne

    Guess you could say Model Mayhem facilitated the trade. As a photographer I could say that I used this site cause MH ran a business, kept a tight ship. MH did their due diligence?

    Your last paragraph is disturbing.Blame the victim?

    1. Mike Carson Avatar
      Mike Carson

      Where does he say it’s her fault? Quote it to me.

      You can’t because he doesn’t, it’s clear throughout the whole thing that those he holds responsible are the two rapists, not the victim. He says repeatedly how awful it was that this happened to her.

      And promoting personal responsibility isn’t victim shaming/blaming either, it’s a nessesary evil that can help protect some people, but it doesn’t make horrible things that happen to them “their fault” if they don’t.

      It’s not a simple issue, and making snap calls like that just makes it harder to discuss.

    2. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      No, the blame lays entirely with the perpetrators.

  2. Rex Deaver Avatar
    Rex Deaver

    Victim blaming. Sad.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      I am not victim blaming in the least, and said several times how horrible this was, and that it shouldn’t happen to anybody.

      What I’m saying is that this shouldn’t be MM’s responsibility. Is eBay responsible if somebody rips you off in an auction? Is the local pub owner responsible if somebody glasses you in the face? Is Ford responsible because that’s the brand of car the hit & run driver was in when he sent you to the hospital? Of course not.

    2. Mike Carson Avatar
      Mike Carson

      What you just said offended me, is that diyphotography.com’s fault for allowing comments?

  3. Sean Avatar
    Sean

    I don’t see it as victim blaming. Victim blaming would be “she was asking for it because she’s a model”. I see it as common sense would tell you to make sure you do not meet strangers alone. I agree that the best MM could have done was a warning that you meet other members at your own risk. I fee very sorry for the girl and the actions of the creeps (which I’m glad they got life+) but I do not see how MM can be held liable for stupidity and poor judgement. If my GPS takes me to a dangerous area in a city and I get robbed is it the GPS makers fault that it did not warn me that “hey, this is a run down dangerous location exit your vehicle at your own risk”?

  4. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    That one is hard. Put it in another perspective, if Model Mayhem was held accountable here, then websites like Craigslist would have to close down (it’s no wonder some police departments are making a safe zone for trade). Uber, Lift and AirBnb would follow (all have crime stories). Tinder, eHarmony, Match etc too. eBay and auction websites next.

    Basic idea is that criminals will always try to exploit those services. And if they are not around, they find another way.

    Problem is, as much as I hate what happened to that model and fully think that people should be extremely careful of online services that acts as middlemen to people you basically don’t know, it’s hard to blame the service – unless of course, it really did know of previous cases and didn’t take action to ban those rapists. Then I fully understand taking it to justice, because even if there was no full responsibility, at the very least they were negligent. If there’s proof the service knew about previous cases regarding the scumbags, failure to specifically warn the model could be in question.

    Thing is, this isn’t a problem of online service itself. Unfortunately, it’s a problem not limited to the service, nor a problem specific to the Internet. We probably all heard of stories of photographers, even famous ones, doing the most hideous, disgusting and criminal stuff around.
    So I have to question if an alternative, should the service close down, would really be better for models.

    What is true though is that all the services I mentioned should take all the extra steps possible and always take their costumers side. If they are taking action now, they are too late. It already happened. If the service knew they had to take extra steps and failed to do so, judges and jury won’t take this lightly.