Ohio lawyer sues mug-shot websites
TOLEDO, Ohio — An Ohio attorney has filed a class-action lawsuit against Internet websites that make money by posting mug shots of people who get arrested.
Toledo lawyer Scott Ciolek filed the suit against five commercial websites in Lucas County this week. He claims more than 259,000 Ohioans have been cataloged on various sites and, to have a photo removed — even if a person has been found not guilty or the charges were dismissed — the sites charge a removal fee.
“They have to pay these websites to remove their photo, which is extortion,” Ciolek told The Blade for a story published on Dec. 5.
The lawsuit names two plaintiffs and Ciolek said more plaintiffs and defendants could be named.
None of the sites named in the suit returned calls or e-mails from the newspaper seeking comment.
One of the plaintiffs, Phillip Kaplan of Toledo, said that although his 2011 charge for failure to disperse was dismissed earlier this year, his mug shot remains online.
He estimates he’s gotten at least a dozen calls and messages from people asking if he’s seen his photo online. A freelance designer and copywriter, Kaplan said his continued presence on the Internet could be keeping him from full-time employment.
“I don’t get a lot of callbacks,” he said. “One of the first things people do is type a name into Google. I think it’s affected my opportunities at more gainful employment. It affects a lot of people’s chances at employment.”
He says he’s willing to “dig up” the arrest again in hopes of ending the practice of “eternally running somebody’s photos whose case has been dismissed. … This is the illegal selling of people’s images. You can’t sell someone’s likeness back to them.”
Mug-shot photos are public record, available to anyone. Many first appear on law enforcement agency websites. The legal issues don’t begin until a company starts to profit from the photos, Ciolek said.
“The real issue lies in the commercial use of it,” he said. Ohio law states that a persona cannot be used for commercial gain without the individual’s written consent. Newsworthiness, public affairs and sports broadcasts are the few exceptions.
Ciolek has created a website for Ohio residents whose mug shots have been posted on any private site.