UPDATE: First, please realize that IPWatchdog is not in any way affiliated with Jerk.com. We are a blog reporting on intellectual property and Internet issues. Second, since this article was initially published Jerk.com has moved it hosting at least several times. Third, if you wish to try and get removed please see Jerk.com: Who to Contact to Get Removed (published on IPWatchdog.com 1/18/2013).
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Jerk.com is one of those sites on the Internet that is the poster-child for everything wrong with the Internet and the anonymous communications that are so commonplace. The Internet is the refuge for cowards that wouldn’t have the guts to approach someone and say what they really feel to their face. Shrouded in secrecy provided by the Internet anonymous cowards become emboldened to say vile things and stoop to ridiculous lows — even publishing pictures of young children and asking the Internet community to vote on whether the minor is a jerk.
Jerk.com isn’t the worst website on the Internet by a long shot, but the arrogance with which the site is operated and the flagrant disregard for copyright law is astounding. It seems that anyone can anonymously post a picture of anyone else on Jerk.com, including pictures of young children, and then the voting begins with respect to whether that person is a jerk. All of this is done without the knowledge, permission or consent of the individual, or parents of young children. Once published, anonymous and sometimes vile comments are accepted and posted. Talk about cyberbullying! Disgusting!
Posting someone on Jerk.com is extremely easy and can be accomplished without the other person even knowing, or parent consenting in the case of children. The posting page on Jerk.com says:
Fill out the form below to find or create a profile on jerk. Include a picture if you can and as much other information as possible. For a fee of $10.00 you can make this person Jerk of the Day. They will remain Jerk of the Day for at least 24 hours often longer.
Jerk.com also says that once someone is posted they cannot be removed, which is an inaccurate statement at least if you are going to allow law and factual reality to influence you. However, most people will read the non-removal policy and likely give up. It says:
Just because you have a profile on Jerk does not mean you are a jerk. Less than 5% of the millions of people on Jerk are jerks. Jerk is where you find out if someone is a jerk, is not a jerk, or is a saint in the eyes of others. No one`s profile is ever removed because Jerk is based on searching free open internet searching databases and it`s not possible to remove things from the Internet.
Like so many other ignorant people and companies, Jerk.com erroneously believes that whatever is posted to the Internet is freely available to be copied. The fact that they wish that were true doesn’t make it legally correct. What Jerk.com is saying here is simply not consistent with U.S. copyright laws, or the copyright laws of the 165 countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
Putting aside the fact that Jerk.com is openly, willfully and blatantly engaging in ongoing copyright infringement, it is amazing that law enforcement has shut not down sites like this. Even more amazing is the fact that federal and state legislatures have not stepped up to the plate to stop this cyberbullying, which would be enormously easy to do.
There are already laws on the books that can be used to stop this sort of thing, specifically copyright law and right of publicity law, but it would be much better to have a specific provision that requires a website to obtain your permission before they can post any personally identifying information about you, including your picture or likeness. At the very least there should be legislatively mandated, simple procedures to get your personally identifiable information removed from a website that shanghais your information.
In the meantime, while we wait for federal and state legislators to figure out what is obvious to everyone else, what can you do to get your information removed from a website like Jerk.com?
If the image that Jerk.com uses for you is one to which you own the copyrights getting it removed should not be particularly difficult thanks to U.S. copyright laws. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, more commonly known as the DMCA, gives copyright owners the right to send “takedown notices” to those who are infringing upon the owner’s copyrights. Essentially, if someone has taken your original work and posted it to their website without your approval you can pressure the web host company to take down the material. Web hosts enjoy broad immunity from lawsuit in the United States for copyright infringement provided they act swiftly to remove infringing content once they are made aware of the existence of the content by the copyright owner. The loss of this immunity makes web hosting companies act exceptionally quickly.
DMCA takedown notices are extremely successful. The DMCA provides immunity from liability for Internet Service Providers as long as they act swiftly to investigate and ultimately remove or disable infringing material once they are notified. So the website hosting provider leases space on their servers to an individual or business and the lessee posts the infringing material. If you notify the web host they, in my experience, always take down or disable the infringement because if they don’t then they will be on the hook. With attorneys fees and statutory damages that can rise to $150,000 (see 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)) it isn’t hard to see why the DMCA is so effective a tool for copyright owners. To learn how to use a DMCA take down notice see How to Stop Online Copyright Infringement and Sample DMCA Take Down Letter.
Photographs are copyrightable, so it is clear that Jerk.com is engaging in a widespread and intentional campaign to infringement copyrights, which really should be investigated by the Department of Justice because there are significant criminal penalties for copyright infringement.
The copyright in a photograph is owned by the individual who took the picture. Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works, and attaches at the moment that the photograph is taken. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright, and there is no such thing as a right to freely copy or an implied right to copy simply because someone posted something on the Internet.
So what you need to do to get your copyrighted material taken down from a website is to send a DMCA Take Down Notice to the entity hosting the content. If they do not remove or disable the content immediately (typically within 10 days) they become liable for the copyright infringement themselves.
How do you find out the webhost? The easiest way is to go to Network-Tools.com and type in the domain name for the website. There are other sites you can use, but this is where I always go. When you type in Jerk.com you learn that the site is hosted on computers located in the United States and it appears that Amazon.com, Inc. is somehow affiliated with Jerk.com. If you search the page (CTRL+ F) for “abuse” you will find an e-mail address for communications relating to publishing abuses. You will want to send your DMCA Take Down Notice to this e-mail address.
You will also find that the DNS servers are hosted by dns1.name-services.com, which has an IP Address of 126.96.36.199. I always search that IP Address as well, by typing the address into the Network-Tools.com and clicking “GO!” If you do you will find this server, which is where Jerk.com information, data and images are stored, is hosted by ENOM, which is owned by Demand Media, Inc. If you again search the page (CTRL + F) and look for “abuse” you will find another e-mail address. You should also send your DMCA Take Down Notice to this e-mail address as well.
Interestingly, while Jerk.com is more than willing to allow private citizens to have their personally identifiable information published they are afraid to let us know who they are and who owns the domain name, opting for private registration. Isn’t that just like a coward? They are happy to invade upon you and others, but they want to maintain their own privacy. Pathetic!
Is there anything else you can do? Yes. In most states there are laws that prevent the unauthorized use of an individuals likeness without their permission. These laws are known as right of publicity laws. If you have difficulty getting information removed you should contact an attorney and inquire about whether you might be able to bring a lawsuit against Jerk.com for violating your right of publicity. If you follow this path your attorney will be able to get a court to order those providing anonymous domain registration services for Jerk.com to disclose who actually owns the domain name so you can sue the proper party.
The first step would be to sue ENOM and Amazon.com to obtain the identity of the owners of the domain name. When you prevail in this litigation, which you will, you will then know who to sue directly. You will also be able to let everyone else know who the cowards are behind Jerk.com so they can likewise sue them for blatant copyright infringement and other intentional actions and torts, of which I can assure you there are many.
If you need assistance please let me know. If there are enough people aggrieved who are willing to take action a class action lawsuit could potentially be the answer, which would certainly be something that would capture the attention of Jerk.com and the many other websites that deal in this vile form of business. It might even register on the radar screen for federal and state legislatures who have the power to end this type of thing if they are really interested in doing so.