Child pornography victim wins restitution… from viewers?

The US Supreme Court has just issued a rather odd ruling. A young woman called “Amy” in court papers was filmed being raped by her uncle at ages 8 and 9. Then the videos went viral on the internet amongst child pornography traffickers. Amy has asked for restitution under a law Congress passed in the 90s. The court agrees she should get it… but rather than collecting it all from the man who made the video, they are splitting the award amongst the known viewers – about 3,200 of them.

What are your thoughts on this? When people win civil cases, it’s up to them to actually recover the money the court said they deserved. Many people never succeed in recovering all they were awarded. At least Amy has already recovered about half what the court has said she’s entitled to. But it may cost her a lot to recover the rest, the way the court has set this up. OTOH, she could also struggle to recover it from Paroline alone, so this is always an issue with civil cases and maybe handling it this way gives her a better chance of recovering more of the award.

I’m all in favor of punishing the viewers as well as distributors and anyone else involved, don’t get me wrong. I’m just not sure this is the most logical approach. I am glad, however, that the court expressed nothing but the view that she did deserve significant restitution and had been through something really horrible. Some of our conservative justices never fail to amaze me with how ignorant they are about topics like this.


  1. Alex says

    In theory, I think it’s borderline on whether or not it’s going a little far since civil damages should come from the people that caused direct, knowing harm against the plaintiff. I don’t think many of the viewers were downloading this with any awareness of who was involved. The analogy that comes to mind would be a studio being awarded copyright violation damages not just from a user uploading a full movie on YouTube, but also everybody that viewed it. Even if the viewer is doing something illegal, retribution against them feels excessive, unnecessarily broad, and a precedent like this could easily turn into a chilling effect (and yes, I do expect a Hollywood studio to try and collect damages from viewers using this as an example).

    On the other hand, people that view child pornography are giving a market to child sexual abuse and if further civil damages for their actions makes the market less viable, even if it’s not an ideal solution (people viewing child pornography generally have serious unaddressed mental health issues and aren’t likely to be deterred by economic factors alone), I’m all for it. There needs to be some seriously specific legal language on how they handle this, though.

    A huge issue is proving who viewed what video with an acceptable standard of proof. There was a case several years ago where the FBI was arresting people on child pornography charges for merely visiting a honeypot link. The problem was that the FBI couldn’t reliably prove that people were actually coming from the targeted child pornography forums (imagine being Rickrolled into that link and oops, you’re now facing charges!) and when they did convict somebody, it was for two thumbnail files that could easily have come from somebody else’s computer in the process of downloading archives, buying second-hand hard drives, and other non-illegal activities. If they use that low of a standard of evidence for collecting from viewers, then yes, awarding damages against viewers is a horrible idea.

    (Incidentally, while I’m having trouble finding the specific passage in the Roderick Vosburgh court documents, there was a part where the judge basically said something that amounts to “only a guilty man would be so prepared!” as a blanked dismissal to the expert testimony about Windows thumbnail files. It reeked of the same deliberate computer illiteracy that allows horrible legislation like SOPA to flourish.)

  2. Maria says

    Theoretically, I like the ruling because it emphasizes that child pornography and its circulation involves MANY parties…. but at the same time, I think the sites hosting the video should be penalized as well, since they’re part of that same system of circulation.

    • Cheryl H. says

      The site(s) that hosted the video should absolutely be penalized, no question. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be.

      • says

        Child pornography sites typically hide behind servers and documentation in countries that won’t expedite to the US or Europe, so it may just not have been possible to include anyone on that side of things.

        • Cheryl H. says

          I didn’t think of extradition treaties. Things like child porn shouldn’t require them. That and murder; know what I mean?

          • says

            Yep. It’s as angering as how Roman Polanski’s allowed to prance around the world bragging about what he did. And as far as I’m concerned, he and the people are a matched set.

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