Courts: Alyssa Milano's two lawsuits would be the first of their kind in a dispute between celebrities and online entrepreneurs.
April 28, 1998 | GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER
Cast in roles they never envisioned, let alone approved, many of
Hollywood's top celebrities are increasingly finding that they are the star
attractions on thousands of Internet sex sites.
Hoping to bring the curtain down on such sites, "Melrose Place" star Alyssa Milano is expected to file two lawsuits today against several online firms accused of selling nude pictures of her and dozens of other stars over the Net."
The suits by the television actress would be the first of their
kind in a simmering conflict between stars dismayed by their lack of control
over their online images and legions of cyber-entrepreneurs who are raking in
millions of dollars by selling digitized glimpses of celebrity skin, including
many pictures that are fakes.
The pending lawsuits accuse companies in Los Angeles, Minnesota and Canada of copyright, privacy and other violations, and aim to force them to pull the plug on their various sites. Mitchell Kamarck, a Beverly Hills attorney who represents Milano, said he hopes the suits also ignite a broader attack by Hollywood against such sex sites.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Kamarck said. "Celebrities are realizing for the first time that the Net is a dangerous force if it's not corralled."
But taming the Internet is always a thorny legal issue, as Congress learned last year when its attempt to outlaw indecency in cyberspace was overturned on 1st Amendment grounds.
It's also unclear that the Net can actually be corralled. After all, even if Milano prevails in her lawsuits and shutters a handful of sites, there are countless others that will go about their X-rated business as usual, with new online peep shows popping up every day.
So even if Hollywood has the law on its side, economics and the freewheeling nature of the Net itself--which enables images to be copied around the globe with the click of a mouse--are working against celebrities.
"I don't think you can stamp it out," said Anthony Lupo, a Washington, D.C., attorney and expert on Internet legal issues. "The law may be in Hollywood's favor, but there's enormous demand for these pictures, and it's so easy to do."
From Sophia Loren to Leonardo DiCaprio, few celebrities escape the illicit attention. Typing the name of almost any star into an Internet search engine yields numerous skin sites. Add the word "nude" to the query and the list of matches becomes an avalanche.
Some of the pictures are stills taken from movies in which the stars have appeared nude. Others are paparazzi shots of celebrities caught off-guard. But many of the pictures are outright fakes in which software has been used to paste a star's face on another's nude body, sometimes in sexually graphic positions.
To those who have followed this issue, it's no surprise that the first suits are being brought by Milano, a 25-year-old actress best known for her childhood role on the 1980s sitcom "Who's the Boss?"
Her mother, Lin Milano, has led something of a crusade against
celebrity sex sites, and even started a small company called CyberTrackers that
scans the Net on behalf of a handful of clients, looking for illicit images and
firing off electronic warnings to offending sites.
Milano said she started the company a few years ago after her son, then a 12-year-old student at a private school in Minnesota, was exploring the Net and stumbled onto nude pictures of his famous sister.
"He was very upset," Milano said. "Which made Alyssa and the rest of our family very upset."
Some of the Milano images are taken from a film in which she appeared nude, Kamarck said, but others are fakes, and there is at least one picture of an unknown young girl who is identified as Milano during her "Who's the Boss?" years.
Kamarck said Milano could have targeted any number of firms, but selected those named in her suits because they appear to have profited significantly from their activities, and have ignored repeated requests to remove pictures from their sites.
At least one defendant, John F. Lindgren, registered owner of nudecelebrity.com in Minnesota, acknowledged receiving complaints from Milano, but said he ignored them and was waiting for "something really serious."
Asked how he would respond to a suit, Lindgren, 21, said he would simply take down the Milano pictures but seek to keep running a business that he claims is bringing in more than $10,000 a month.
Other defendants--including Paul Anand of British Columbia and Alexander Poparic of Los Angeles--could not be reached for comment. The pending suits are expected to seek unspecified damages.
Celebrity skin sites occupy a small but growing corner of the vast online adult industry, which Forrester Research expects to surpass $185 million this year.
"Everybody wants to see the stars," said Joseph Parris, 26, an Oklahoma aircraft electrician who launched a celebrity sex site two months ago. "My first site didn't have anything to do with celebrities, but my second site does and it's already generating 10 times the traffic."