Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Standard-Examiner: Mug Shot Website Suing Salt Lake Sheriff Over Access to Booking Photos

Yes; this blooming web-based mug-shot blackmail industry has opened up a whole can of legal worms, one which we'll be closely watching as these cases progress, of course

Intriguing development on the Utah civil liberties front, as the Standard-Examiner reports this morning that "The owner of a website that publishes inmate booking photos is suing a Utah sheriff for denying a public records request for more than a thousand mug shots." And the first interesting twist to this story? Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder takes the "novel" position that the denial of such bulk request for these admittedly "public records" is legally justifiable because the Sheriff's Office "holds copyright control over the images," while the plaintiff, Kyle Prall, who runs the website, contends that "if the court doesn’t overturn the Sheriff’s 'wrong and selective denial,' it would set a 'dangerous precedent' beyond mug shots into broader rights of public access to government records," thereby denying that the Salt Lake Sheriff's office enjoys any such "copyright" protection: 
Mr. Prall may have a troubling but arguable point, wethinks.  Imagine, for instance, the further difficulties Ogden City government watchdog Dan Schroeder might have suffered in his ultimately successful effort to dislodge Ogden City water utility and budget records, in the event that the Ogden City administration had successfully asserted "precedented" copyright protection for those long-sought public documents. Having said that, we do support any reasonable efforts to shut down this blood-sucking web-based industry, while ever keeping in mind the old legal axiom: "hard cases make bad law."
The website is of course one of dozens of similar websites which obtain "publicly available" jail booking photos "for free," plaster them up on the web, and then "extort" fees, sometimes in the "hundreds of dollars," for removal of these "embarrasing" images from public view.

For some recent historical background on the development of this story, here's an earlier write-up from the Salt Lake Tribune:
And here's another recent article more broadly examining the thorny Utah legal dilemma:
This last article of course also cites the 2013 legislature's recently enacted  HB 408, which provides "prohibits county sheriffs from providing a copy of a booking photograph to a person if the photograph will be placed in a publication or posted on a website that requires a  payment in order to remove the photograph; requires a person requesting a copy of a booking photograph to sign a statement that the photograph will not be placed in a publication or on a website that requires payment in order to remove the photograph; and provides a criminal penalty for a false statement." So in a nutshell, the enactment of this Utah statutory provision would provide further "legal ammo" for Sheriff Winder's booking photo request denial, beyond the original assertion of "copyright protection."  

And further complicating the murky issues surrounding this pending Utah matter may be another lawsuit in Ohio, involving circumstances where government authorities have attempted to deny similar image production requests on so-called First Amendment "right of publicity" grounds:
It would come as no surprise to us to see this issue also arise in the pending Utah matter, of course.

Yesiree, folks.  This blooming web-based mug-shot blackmail  industry has opened up a major legal can of worms, one which we'll be closely watching as these cases progress. "That" you can take straight to the bank, as you probably already know.

With that, what say our gentle readers about all this? 


CJ said...

Those guys are pigs hiding behind the public's right to know.

CJ said...

Those guys are pigs hiding behind the public's right to know.

CJ said...

Those guys are pigs hiding behind the public's right to know.

Bob Becker said...

OK, but the question is, how do we pen the pigs without simultaneously limiting the public's access to public records?

Virginia L. said...

but i thought paris (to the Hilt) was a character actress. ? no ?

Dan S. said...

Easy: Criminalize their business model.

Trying to use GRAMA to prevent what they're doing is simply the wrong approach and is doomed to failure.

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