- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

The young fans of social-networking sites generally consider Facebook a safer place than rival MySpace because Facebook only permits friends to see the content users post. But what if someone copies photos and posts them on an entirely different Web site?

A crop of new Web sites dedicated to finding and showing off photos of social-networking sites’ “hottest girls” appears to be seizing on the ambiguity of copyright law in cyberspace.

“A new phenomenon has popped up,” said Nick O’Neill of Allfacebook.com, an unofficial blog about the Web site that has become a fixture for teenagers and young adults. “Something about the grouping of these photos makes it feel wrong, even if it isn’t illegal.”

Most of the photos on such sites are used without permission of the young women in them, said Mr. O’Neill, who thinks doing so should be criminal.

That view is shared by Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the 22-year-old call girl whose involvement with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer forced his resignation last week.

News outlets lifted images of Miss Dupre from her MySpace page and distributed them throughout the Internet, and that may be a violation of her rights, according to her lawyer.

The squabble over using Miss Dupre’s MySpace photos is complex because it concerns news reporting, which could be protected under standard exceptions to copyright law. But the dispute highlights a broader question: Do third-party Web sites have the right to extract photos from the profiles of social-networking users and post them somewhere else?

William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in privacy and technology, said that use of private photos by other sites seems to be a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. He said that such actions violate the copyright of the photographer.

“What’s interesting … about the legal landscape of pictures like this is that the copyright protection is a lot stronger than any privacy protection,” Mr. McGeveran said. “You can’t just take a picture off of another Web site and put it on your own without permission.”

Mr. McGeveran said that infringing copyrights by republishing photos on other sites could be unlawful.

“The protection of user privacy is a core part of Facebook,” spokesman Matt Hicks said. “Facebook users agree in the site”s terms of use and policies that they will not reproduce other user profiles, photos or content without permission from the user in question and Facebook.”

Mr. Hicks said that Facebook is investigating the sources of photos used on questionable sites and that if a violation has occurred, Facebook will disable the accounts of offending users and pursue appropriate legal action.

One of the sites hosting the reposted photos, FBChicks .com, explained the idea behind creating the site.

“The goal of FBChicks is to eliminate the pain in browsing a multitude of websites,” according to the site’s “about” page. It goes on to explain that the creators’ idea was to compile party pictures in one place for easy viewing.

The Web site, which was once shut down due to a legal complaint, according to Mr. O’Neill, asks visitors to submit photos that they own the rights to and include geographic information so that images received can be organized.

For women who unknowingly appear on FBChicks, the site said their photos are included because a user pretending to be them e-mailed their image to the site.

“It’s easy to get your picture removed from the site if you didn’t send it in. … We will get rid of it with no questions asked,” the site states, providing an e-mail address for inquiries.

Another site, HottestGirlsonFacebook.com, contains links to pictures of women from photo-sharing site Flickr as well as MySpace.

The sites don’t post pornography, in line with Facebook’s terms of use, but the suggestive photos consist of ordinary people, occasionally without their knowledge.

“I do not know any of the people I post about,” writes the site’s manager, Brock Landers, on the “about” page. He states that those in the photos can also contact him for removal and apology.

Mr. Landers said he wanted to use the site, which began operating in October, to help young women launch modeling careers and get publicity.

“This site is intended for two things: laughter and amazement,” he wrote.

Mr. Landers said that he had not been asked to shut down his Web site.

“We’ve gotten some e-mails from some of the girls thanking us for posting them on the site,” he said.

Facebook allows for multiple security choices on photo albums. Users can opt not to show specific albums in limited profiles accessible to only those they select. In addition, the visibility of an album can be altered so photos are only shown to a select group of friends.

“If you’re putting up content that’s really embarrassing, even if you think you’re setting it to a stricter privacy level … [you] ought to be more careful,” Mr. McGeveran said.

There are hundreds of Facebook groups requesting photos of the “hottest girls” on the site and even a few listing the “hottest” and on occasion “the sweetest” guys. The difference between these Facebook groups and stand-alone Web sites, however, is that users willingly join the groups and add their own pictures. That’s usually not the case outside the site.

“If I were a dad of one of these girls, I’d be furious at my daughter for posting these pictures on Facebook, not the guy who posted them on his site,” Mr. Landers said. “Guys are guys, and all guys … like pictures of attractive women, even dads.”

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