The asshole bar is raised again

A few days ago a web developer in Seattle called Jason Fortuny posted a personal ad to the Seattle Craigslist. He apparently lifted the text from a personal posted to another city’s Craigslist.

The ad was a sexually explicit one, from a submissive woman seeking BDSM sex. Fortuny posted it using the Craigslist e-mail anonymizing option. He then collected the responses—178 or more, with at least 145 photos.

Then he published everything on the web. Every single response, unedited, including all the personal information and photographs that people had sent him.

You’ll find threads about it all over the place if you do a few searches. I’m not going to link to any of it, and I’m not going to give any clues to where the personal information was posted. Go search if you really feel you must know; I don’t feel the need to make the victims’ problems even worse by increasing Fortuny’s pagerank scores.

There are a few things I find interesting about the reaction I’ve seen.

The first thing is that the majority of comments seem to think it’s all a hilarious prank and that the victims deserve what they got—or are going to get. Chances are marriages will be ruined and people will lose jobs, but the concensus seems to be that if you’re dumb enough to respond to a personal ad, you must be some kind of subhuman who deserves unemployment, divorce, and public mockery.

It’s also interesting that everybody is latching onto legal arguments over breach of privacy and/or harrassment. They’re missing something much more fundamental, which is that copyright in a letter belongs with the author, and Fortuny is definitely breaking copyright law by reproducing the e-mail he received in full. While there is a clear expectation that you have the right to keep and read e-mail you receive, you do not have the right to publish it, unless you obtain permission.

So it seems pretty clear to me that Fortuny is placing himself in legal jeopardy. The copyright case is open and shut, before you even start to consider the possibility of a civil case for harassment or invasion of privacy.

I also suspect that harrassment lawsuits would go against him pretty rapidly. Consider the cases so far where jealous ex-boyfriends have harassed women by posting their photographs and personal information on the web. Even when those women voluntarily gave the photos and information to their boyfriends, did that mean the boyfriends prevailed in court? Not a bit.

The third thing I find interesting is that hardly anyone commenting has recognized that the lives of unambiguously innocent people may be ruined. One couple who have an “open” relationship have asked Fortuny to take down their information, because their relatives don’t know, and their family life could be ruined. Consider also the wife of a cheating husband, who suddenly finds her husband’s name and unfaithfulness splashed across the web. How will she feel about her friends and neighbors all being told by a third party that her husband is cheating on her? Does she “deserve it”?

One person likely to lose his job as a result of Fortuny’s stunt is a US Marine, and Fortuny seems to take pride in the fact that his own personal information is trivial to look up. His personal web site seems to be down, but the Google cache copy has his home phone number, and it looks as if his home address is in the whois entry for his domain. I hope he has good insurance. Forget lawsuits, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a savage beating somewhere in his future. If he’s lucky maybe someone will merely smash up his car a bit—after all, his victims all live nearby.