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July 20, 2001 07:23am
Washington State's Anti-Voyeurism Law Upheld
Source: FreeSpeechLaw.com
by: Lawrence G. Walters, Esq.

In what could be a significant setback for Internet voyeur sites, the Washington Court of Appeals recently upheld the State's voyeurism statute, prohibiting "up-skirt" photography for use on Internet Web sites. State v. Glass, 2001 W.L. 747610 (Wash. App., July 5, 2001).

The Defendant was convicted at trial under the State's anti-voyeurism statute that prohibits the photographing of a person without that person's knowledge and consent in "a place where he or she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy." The statute defined such a place as "a place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from hostile intrusion." The Defendant was caught photographing up womens' skirts at a public shopping mall in Union Gap, Washington. The court rejected the claim that the law was vague and overbroad.

Although several states have recently enacted so-called anti-voyeurism laws in response to the popularity of voyeuristic adult Internet sites, several have been ruled unconstitutional. Now that this one has been upheld, state lawmakers have a road map to follow in adopting future anti-voyeurism laws.

In its opinion, the Washington Appeals Court noted that "up-skirt video voyeurism is apparently a thriving Internet business, with about a hundred Web sites devoted to up skirt and other candid body shots of unsuspecting female victims in public places. Professionals employed by these sites and amateur contributors are part of a cottage industry of stalking and secretly filming victims and disseminating the images on the Internet" Id. at 2. The court's estimate of "about a hundred" such sites is perhaps a good understatement.

Now that this cat is out of the bag, webmasters disseminating actual voyeuristic content should be all the more cautious. Of course, there are other important legal issues raised by "up-skirt" sites. Included are whether they violate the harsh child pornography laws by exhibition of the pubic area of a minor or someone appearing to be a minor. Also, if the person photographed is identifiable, that could give rise to a claim of violation of the right of publicity and one of invasion of privacy. If, on the other hand, a Web site advertises voyeuristic content when, in fact, the images are of consenting models, such a business model may give rise to a claim for deceptive and unfair advertising.

About Lawrence G. Walters:
Lawrence G. Walters, Esquire is a partner with the law firm of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt, based in Los Angeles. Mr. Walters runs the firm's Florida office, and represents clients involved in all aspects of adult media. Weston, Garrou & DeWitt handles First Amendment cases nationwide, and has been involved in significant Free Speech litigation before the United States Supreme Court. All statements made in the above article are matters of opinion only, and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult your own attorney on specific legal matters. You can reach Lawrence Walters at Larry@LawrenceWalters.com or www.FreeSpeechLaw.com

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