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Art Gallery’s Plan To Exhibit Hacked Celeb Photos Should Be Stopped

By now we have all heard that due to an apparent glitch in the iCloud function, dozens of nude and compromising photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and others have been spread all over the Internet. So now to add insult to injury, comes word that an LA Artist that goes by the name XVALA plans an exhibition of some of the photos in a gallery in St. Petersburg Florida. The exhibition is part of a series by the artist that he calls “Fear Google.” Other exhibitions have occurred at the Cory Allen Contemporary Art  in Los Angeles.

His first attention-grab was in 2007, when he displayed a paparazzi photograph of Britney Spears with a shaved head in a reproduction of an early 17th-century Italian frame gilded with white gold. Then after a hacker leaked Scarlett Johansson’s nude images, XVALA plastered the prints all over LA with his signature “Fear Google” logo covering her intimate areas. Now he intends to exhibit life-size blow-ups of the intimate shots of these actresses making the dubious claim that “An individual’s privacy has become everyone else’s business. … It has become cash for cache.” And the gallery’s publicist Cory Allen said the exhibit will help “strengthen the ongoing debate over privacy in the digital era.” No it won’t. It will be someone making money off of the stolen property of another. Calling it “art” doesn’t immunize that conduct anymore than me framing for display some hundred dollar bills that I stole from a bank. And I know what you’re saying “That’s different – these people took these photos of themselves on their phones – what were they thinking?”  Perhaps they were thinking “I am going to engage in absolutely legal conduct.”  Legal conduct, by the way that has become a popular way to engage in flirting, courting and sexual behavior. So these mostly young women were doing what much of their generation and age group do – take intimate pictures of themeselves to send to a lover, spouse, or just see what they look like in a nude selfie. 

But what  they did, they did in the confines of their own privacy. They didn’t post them on their fan website for the world to see. In fact, many of them deleted the images soon after they took them or shared them with their partners. What they didn’t know was that apparently Apple iPhones automaticaly saved all images on their iCloud feature. Even after deletion, the images remained stored on the cloud. And iPhone users were never aware of that. Then, someone with alot of technical know-how and alot of time on their hands used Apple’s “I Lost My Phone” app to hack into the iCloud storage and download the private images. (Maybe XVALA should title his exhibit “Fear Apple” instead). By the way “hack” is a new way of saying “stole.” Keep that in mind – regardless of whether you think folks should be taking nude pictures of themselves, no one should be allowed to make money or grab publicity off stealing them. Shame and blame should be cast on those websites that continue to house the images knowing they were obtained without the subject’s consent.  

lady justiceIt is no coincidence that for the first time XVALA will be exhibiting in St. Petersburg Florida as opposed to LA.  California passed one of the nation’s first “Revenge Porn” laws making it illegal to exhibit or post nude photos without a person’s consent in most situations. Also, California has one of the strongest right to privacy and right to publicity laws in the country. Making money off a person’s name or image without their consent can expose the guilty party to monetary damages and an injunction to make them stop the offending behavior. IF XVALA really felt that this exhibition was about art and that there was nothing wrong, then it should happen in LA and let the court system work it out. I am hopeful that the involved celeb’s lawyers will take legal action to stop the exhibit. While celebs are public ifigures and when they walk on the street or eat in restaurants, the papparazzi have every right to take pictures of them, this is different. And copyright law provides the easiest way to put an end to this show. Since many of these images are selfies, then the photographer -and no one else- owns the copyright in the images. The copyright holder alone enjoys the right to make derivative uses of the image and to display the images for commercial use. Even if a third party took the images using the actresses cell phones, the actresses may still have at least a shared right in the images; of course regardless of who took them, the actresses have their right to privacy and publicity. I have used these legal arguments to help many Revenge Porn victims in two websites I am involved with, and

Finally, we need to stop blaming the victims of this invasion of privacy. If I leave the door to my house open unknowingly, and some thief walks in and steals my furniture, only the thief is to blame. It wasn’t that long ago that it was OK to ask a rape victim why she wore a short skirt or lacy top on the night of her attack. Now rape shield laws prohibit that line of questioning because we have come to understand that if a rape or sexual assault occurred, the blame only lies with the guilty party, not the victim. We need to reinvigorate that thought process and debate when it comes to hacked nude images – stop focusing on why these actressess took nudes of themselves. Instead focus on catching the folks who broke the law and victimized them. Focus on why as bright as everyone allegedly is over at Apple, they couldn’t figure out a way to tell users that their private images (and who knows what other private information)  would be stored forever on the cloud without their knowledge or consent. XVALA said in a press release for the show.“We share our secrets with technology, And when we do, our privacy becomes accessible to others.”  Yes, but only if someone breaks the law. We share our secrets over the telephone too but no one condones phone tapping as “art.”  This is no different than someone exhibiting recorded conversations obtained through illegal eavesdropping. Let’s get some of our privacy back and say its not OK to  publish stolen property.          

[UPDATE] XVALA wisely decided to cancel the show’s use of the stolen photos over expressed found empathy after seeing a petition signed by thousands of folks opposed to his use of the stolen images. In an EOnline Report about the cancellation XVALA stated:

“It wasn’t just about being ‘hacked’ images anymore, but now presented in the media as stolen property,People were identifying with Jennifer Lawrence’s and Kate Upton’s victimization, much more than I had anticipated, which is powerfully persuasive.”

So this artist just realized that hacked = stolen only because the “media” portrayed it that way? And he didn’t think folks would empathize with these women when he profited off of their stolen, private, nude images? He can’t be that thick and short-sighted. I suspect that this new found empathy was caused by some sound legal advice.

Gallery owner Cory Allen tried to put his best spin on it as well saying:  “It was inspiring to see people take action through a petition, signing their name and not just commenting on a thread.”  Yes, you know you have crossed the bounds of decency and legality when citizens today take the extraordinary measure of clicking “Yes” on an               E-petition; it’s reminiscent of Gandhi’s famed hunger strikes. .

The only hope is that the population continues to send a message by totally ignoring the still-planned exhibit which will now instead include nude selfies of XVALA. Read the whole E Online  article here:

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