Lawmaker revising Arizona's 'revenge porn' law after suit

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PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona lawmaker who sponsored a law against "revenge porn" is working on a new version after a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups forced it to be put on hold.

Republican Rep. J.D. Mesnard is revising the bill in an effort to address 1st Amendment concerns raised by publishers and photographers. He said Friday he hopes to introduce a new version within a month.

Mesnard got unanimous support from the Legislature last year for his bill making it a crime for jilted lovers to post nude photos of their former partners online.

But the American Civil Liberties Union sued in September, arguing House Bill 2515 was so broad it made anyone who distributes or displays a nude image without explicit permission guilty of a felony. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued an order putting the law on hold in November as part of an agreement between the Arizona attorney general's office and the groups that sued. The order blocks enforcement of the law to allow the Legislature time to work on changes.

The ACLU sued on behalf of several bookstores and publishing associations, the owner of the Village Voice and 12 other alternative newsweeklies nationwide, and the National Press Photographers Association.

The groups sent Mesnard and legislative leaders a letter early this month suggesting changes to the law to address its concerns that the law was overly broad. They said, for instance, that the law would make it a felony to publish a book containing a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam war photo of a burned and nude little girl running from her bombed village.

"In our view, we're just trying to ask them to add some elements that first of all protect the media with respect to images that are important historically or have news value or artistic image," said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, whose members include publishers, librarians and booksellers. "And trying to really focus this again on the kind of malicious invasion of privacy everyone agrees is bad behavior."

The letter suggested that Mesnard change the law to narrow its scope to address only "revenge porn" without interfering with free speech rights. Specifically, they don't want it to apply when the publication was in the public interest or newsworthy.

And they want it to apply only to someone who was in an intimate relationship and displays a photo that their partner expected would be private with the intent to embarrass, harass or otherwise harm the person.

Mesnard said that language would be a deal-breaker because of the need to prove intent to harm, which he said would create "a big old loophole."

"I'm definitely hesitant to go down that road because it will in my view make the law nearly meaningless," he said. "Because someone could say `I thought it was funny, I didn't mean to cause harm, I was proud of my ex-girlfriend and the way she looks.' They can come up with all sorts of excuses, and suddenly the very same action which in one circumstance is a crime in another circumstance isn't."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have adopted revenge-porn laws in the last two years, but most are very narrowly written. The Arizona law is the only one that has been challenged by the ACLU.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2515 into law in April after it unanimously passed the Senate and House.

Mesnard, a Chandler Republican, crafted the bill in response to the growth of "revenge porn" posted online by jilted lovers. The typical scenario is of a person taking nude photos to share with their lover, and after a breakup having the lover post it online in an act of revenge.

"I'm confident that we'll come up with something that will be even clearer and cleaner that what we came up with last year and something that even if the ACLU continues to challenge in court will be upheld," Mesnard said.

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