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We Can Make This Disappear for a Fee

Scrubbing your mug shot from the net is a growing business.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

July 10, 2011 - 12:02 am
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It turns out that whosarrested.com will be happy to remove that mugshot and arrest record from their website and from search engines for a fee: $99.  Since this removal is an automated process, it should cost them no more than one cent to do this –  easily a 9900% profit.

At this point, some of you are saying, “Cool! A way to make a huge profit by exploiting fear of arrest record exposure!” It turns out that this is very close to being a criminal offense. The definition of extortion varies slightly from state to state, but in California, for example, extortion is defined as “to obtain property from another by a wrongful use of threats to expose any ‘deformity, disgrace or crime’ or ‘any secret affecting [the victim or his family].” This secret or disgrace need not be a criminal matter. Similar wording applies in federal law.

So how does whosarrested.com get away with this? Very simple: they do not make a threat to expose this disgrace and demand money: they publish the disgrace, and then let the victim come to them and offer payment to unpublish it. And that seems to be what makes this all just barely legal — but utterly despicable.

Who is behind this not-quite-extortion scheme?  When you try to find out who owns whosarrested.com, you find that the domain registration is anonymous, done through GoDaddy.com. This is perfectly legal, but I am reminded of how cockroaches scatter when you turn on the lights. However, Steven A. Gibson attempted to trademark whosarrested.com on behalf of Whos Arrested LLC, Las Vegas, Nevada, last year.  And who is Steven A. Gibson? An attorney most notorious for Righthaven LLC, the copyright troll that has been filing hundreds of copyright infringement suits to force quick settlements.

Righthaven’s suits have demanded $75,000 or $150,000 from people who in many cases could not afford legal representation — and now it turns out that Righthaven does not even have any legal standing to file those suits. The settlements were coerced based on a false claim that Righthaven owned the copyright, when the courts have determined that it did not. (Disclosure: I am one of many hundreds of defendants in these suits.) I think I am beginning to see a pattern to how Gibson operates.

There’s a saying, “99% of lawyers give the other 1% a bad name.” This really isn’t true. In my experience, most lawyers are actually pretty ethical and care about more than simply getting rich. Still, it does not take too many situations like whosarrested.com to make the legal profession look really sleazy.

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Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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