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Use copyright law to battle mugshot extortion

[ 3/27/18]

After her DUI charge was dropped, Julie Cantu thought her nightmare was over. Then, she went on a date.

Over dinner, Cantu’s would-be-suitor was asking questions anyone asks on a first date. Then he asked about her criminal record. Caught off-guard by the question, she thought about the dropped charge. Her blood alcohol had been 0.021, well below the legal limit of 0.08, and she had no other contact with the law. How did her date know?

After getting home, the Florida resident and retired nurse went online and searched her name. Her mugshot, eyes puffy and red from crying, was displayed prominently between results for her LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.

Making matters worse, she did not find her photo on a newspaper or crime blotter website that reports local crime. Cantu found herself in the mugshot racket. Her photo was on, and—all of which demanded a fee to take down these photos (two of these sites, and, are no longer active, with the latter now redirecting to a lawyer’s website).

After paying $175 to one site to take down the photo, she found her mugshot pop up on another, which asked for even more money. An exploitative game of online whack-a-mole had begun.

Cantu says she worried that the photo was “going to be there the rest of my life.”

Read more

Related links:

Lawsuits Seek to Bring Down Mugshot Profiteering [ 8/11/17]


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You would think this would at least qualify us to have a change of identity after completion of sentence or expungement, but I think most state’s and judges don’t allow you to change identity just to hide a criminal past even if it wrecks your life and doesn’t serve the public.

So woman who have a criminal record are not allowed to change their last name when they get married? That seems weird. And if they are, can a man not change his name? I don’t think this is right. At least for California.

Looking here on the official site Q&A, the restrictions seems very minor. A judge may deny you if it seems like you’re trying to hide from the police or for criminal activity. It even explains that you can change your name while on supervision or even in prison, but only if its approved by your supervisor. The 290 code even has a part about notifying your local jurisdiction for name changes as for moving.

Here is the million dollar question? How do they get the photos?

They use algorithms to scrape the official websites for the photos. It’s an automated process. I imagine if there were difficult captchas to complete (in addition to the simple “I agree to the terms and conditions” check box) in order to access the photos, it would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for these algorithms to access them. The state I’m in requires the user to do a captcha to view the registry, which in theory should prevent bots from scraping the photos.

You are correct; some states require a Captcha to access their database (i.e.: California and the National registry) and some do not (i.e.: Maine and Florida). Captcha is very easy to implement on a website and it’s become commonplace in every day life, whether it’s making a comment on here, creating a Facebook account, or subscribing to your local grocery store’s mailing list. Amazing that so many states still don’t take any action to prevent web crawlers / scrapers from accessing their government databases, particularly given the amount of personal and private information contained in them.

It would be in their interest to add Captchas – those crawlers and scrapers use a lot of bandwidth (adding to the costs of maintaining the registry) and can cause the websites to crash at times. It also makes them extremely vulnerable to a DDoS attack. If someone ran a script to scrape the entire Florida registry in a short time period, it would likely cause a temporary crash.

There is a BIG secret. has been gaining access to photos not published anywhere. Case in point is Santa Cruz County where the Sheriff’s Department is baffled over how they are obtaining the mugshots.

Sadly NOBODY is investigating this angle.

That is actually a great point, Nicholas!

This means someone has been committing a crime by releasing said pictures, and could also be violating PC 290 terms.

Maybe someone can sue the county for this mistake because if they’re not investigating it, then this mistake can continue to flourish. You made a mistake and you paid for it, are still paying for it. The county made a mistake and you said no one is investigating it. Well, then that means the county of Santa Cruz isn’t admitting there is a mistake. In suing the county, then they’re put on blast for this mistake and they need to investigate it.

As indicated by the article, they are obtaining large amounts of mugshots of people simply ARRESTED and NOT CONVICTED through requests under the Freedom of Information Act. In most instances agencies are required by law to turn over information that is requested. Exceptions are when the information involves active investigations or classified / sensitive information, or as the 6th Circuit had ruled regarding federal agencies, individuals may argue against the release of info on a case by case basis out of safety concerns. Though there is a faulty presumption there that you would be notified that information about you has been requested be released under FOIA. A simpler mining operation though, is that many law enforcement agencies throughout the country publish photos and information about people who have been arrested or who are currently in their county jails and for what crime. Orange County stopped this practice shortly after John Chamberlain was beaten and tortured to death at Theo Lacy Jail. Although his death was alleged to be attributed to deputies sicking gladiators on him by insinuating a bogus jacket, they realized their inmate population was made vulnerable with this info being published online because someone inside could just have a loved one on the outside look up someone’s jacket.

I tried this in the State of Maine, even threatening to sue Knox County for the copyright. I used a Freedom of Access Act request to find the name of the individual who took my photograph and contacted him. The city’s attorney responded stating that they refuse to sign over the copyright for my mugshot even though my case is over a decade old.

A hate group in Massachusetts used my photo and even purchased my background check in order to harass me for years by encouraging the public to “fight back” against me and listing my address, drivers license number, and other personal information. I got a Protection from Harassment (Restraining Order) against the organization and they stopped publishing, but there’s still a lot of copycat articles online. I temporarily got their site shut down after filing an abuse complaint with their webhost, but they switched to an Australian webhost afterward.

I’ve had some luck using DMCA notices even though I don’t own the photo. If you present yourself as the copyright owner, webhosts, authors, etc. usually won’t challenge it because of how severe the consequences of copyright violations are. Most webhosts also have their own policies against abuse and various Terms of Service. If you’re being targeted by someone using your mugshot or other personal information, use a tool like to find the host and review their Terms of Service / Terms of Use and file an abuse complaint with them. You don’t necessarily need to state copyright as the ground for removal – some registry websites forbid anyone from using the information on the site and some law enforcement agencies forbid the public from using their content for monetary gain. Often that is enough to get the content removed. More often than not, search engine results are the primary problem and you can get Google and Bing to de-index websites as well, although your results may vary.

Now that I’m a resident of California, I may try to use some of the protections here to go after any mugshot websites, especially given the fact that financial compensation is built into the law. I believe that the US will eventually follow in the path of Europe by introducing “Right to Be Forgotten” laws. Until then, it’s hit or miss, but I’m encouraged by some of the new laws regarding mugshots and other privacy protections. I think we will see more of this following the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal.

You are definitely smoking the good stuff if you think the U.S. will EVER be progressive like Europe.
The Capital driven prison, law enforcement, and judicial system that is firmly imbedded here will never let that happen. Sorry.

The California attorney general’s office has just filed complaints against three people associated with and are now looking to extradite for criminal prosecution. The news broke yesterday.

I received contact by the FBI this morning. If the Offendex/SORArchives situation and this have anything to do with eachother, but it’s interesting the timing of it all.

What about Can the same argument be used against them?

California Mugshot Extortion Fee Claims Survive Anti-SLAPP Dismissal
Loaded on JAN. 3, 2018 by Mark Wilson
Filed under: Booking Fees. Location: California.

Didn’t really read article, but title got me thinkin’. If I copyright my face and name, could I sue if a private org. then used either?

It would help if Police Departments would post a copyright notice and perhaps a DMCA watermark logo on every photo. That would be easy to automate. I’m going to copy this article and send it to my local Sheriff. He might consider it.

As noted in the article, many law enforcement agencies may not be able to do this because as government agencies, they are not allowed to hold copyright. This is perhaps once instance you could make an argument in favor of privatization of police and/or county lockup facilities because, presumably, they COULD hold copyright.

Though being profit driven institutions, they would make sure the information is not stolen, but sell it to the extortion sites.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x