Law and Order

Ridding the Internet of Your Mortifying Mugshot May Be Just a Lawsuit Away

How relieving.
(Photo: BuzzPirates)

(Photo: BuzzPirates)

Remember that time, back in college, when you were arrested for drunkenly refusing to leave a party at the behest of a grizzly police officer? That incident could haunt you for the rest of your life, and not just as a black smear on your permanent record: If your mugshot shows up on any of the numerous websites that publish them, your online rep could be infinitely sullied. Paging Nick Nolte.

Wired reports that ashamed arrestees are tired of encountering their embarrassing mugshots every time they Google themselves, so they’re mounting a lawsuit based on the notion that sites like okiemugs.com and justmugshots.com are violating their right of publicity.

According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, the right of publicity “prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion.” This means that websites that charge arrestees to have their mugshots taken down could be violating states’ right of publicity laws.

Typically celebrities use this law to keep people from profiting off of their likenesses, but attorney Scott Ciolek told Wired that he believes it can also apply to the proprietors of websites that run ads against mugshots they’ve obtained from the public record. He’s careful to point out that just publishing the images is protected under the First Amendment, but profiting off of them may not be.

We’re sure Lindsay Lohan will be quite relieved.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com