Late September, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in Chicago did not dismiss a novel class action lawsuit alleging that Mugshots.com purposefully does not update or amend incorrect records which also gives incentives for those who are arrested to pay excessive fees to companion mugshot removal service website, Unpublisharrest.com, to have unflattering mug shot photos removed.
Two of the leading class plaintiffs are former Illinois inmates and a third is a Florida resident who claims that he was wrongly arrested because police confused him for a person with the same name. All contend that they cannot get jobs because their photos are posted on Mugshots.com.
The judge allowed plaintiffs’ allegations to stand that the two sites infringed upon plaintiffs’ right of publicity since the mugshots were used as advertisements to draw in readers and garner revenue for Unpublisharrest.com, the related photo removal service.
Mugshots.com claimed that it was protected under the First Amendment and could, therefore, post the plaintiffs’ photos as well as their arrest records because the information is public. However, the judge found that the sites were a commercial, money-making business, and therefore, were not entitled to First Amendment protection as a matter of law.
The judge permitted a claim to stand under the law of Illinois that stops anyone from publishing information on a citizen’s criminal record either online or via print from accepting money to correct or remove the information.
She also permitted plaintiffs’ claim to proceed that the sites should be considered to be in violation of the law regarding unfair trade practices in Florida.
Attorney Patrick Barone observed, “There is new hope for plaintiffs who have suffered reputational damage after being arrested. A claim of First Amendment protection for the industry may be finished with this new class action and the site’s own practice of linking to its related photo removal site.”