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Hollywood and the porn industry are trying to 'gut' Minnesota's 'revenge porn' bill

If this photo is newsworthy, then a lot more people would be watching the nightly news.

If this photo is newsworthy, then a lot more people would be watching the nightly news.

Minnesota is set to join the 27 other states that have criminalized the posting of nude or sexual images without the subject's consent, commonly known as "revenge porn."

Now, state legislators are hearing criticism from Hollywood — or, to be more accurate, from the San Fernando Valley, home of the American porn industry.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the lobbying voice of Hollywood, has come out against the current version of Minnesota's revenge porn bill, saying it is too broad, and would punish people for simply distributing images or video that is newsworthy and valuable to the public. 

What, they ask, would this bill have to say about the iconic "napalm girl" photo that informed so many people's view of the Vietnam War? After all, that little girl in the photo is naked. 

That's why the MPAA says Minnesota should add "intent to harass" language, meaning the poster of a video would only be subject to criminal or civil punishment if the victim could prove that the images were posted to deliberately harm. 

According to Vocativ, it's the first time moviemakers have weighed in on any revenge porn bill. The bill's lead author, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, says the film industry has missed the plot.

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Lesch says his bill explicitly protects the dissemination of pictures and video for artistic, commercial, or journalistic purposes. Meaning: Publishing the "napalm girl" photo is fine. Posting a photo of your most recent hookup without her knowledge isn't. 

Lesch says intentional harassment is a tough standard for a victim to prove, and would allow revenge porn of all kinds to slip through the cracks. If a guy was selling a video for profit, for example, or just said he thought his ex-girlfriend was really beautiful, and should be shared with the world, his posts would be legal. Only someone who admitted to trying to ruin the victim's life would be liable.

"The intention to harm language would expressly permit this conduct, if I was able to come up with any other reason why I posted something online," Lesch said. "That guts the bill."

Lesch observed that the MPAA, and the the Media Coalition, a "First Amendment rights" group that sent its own letter, have not appeared in person to testify against his bill, which has already cleared a couple committee hurdles in the House. The seven-term legislator, a former prosecutor for the city of St. Paul, questions the motives of the movie biz, saying he suspects their concern might be a ruse to protect the porn industry.

"I'm not really interested in protecting the right of pornography distributors to use images they didn't pay to produce, and were able to get for free online," Lesch said. 

The companion bill has yet to start moving in the Senate, and Lesch is planning to show up for those hearings to offer his insights, and ensure that it stays intact. What Hollywood is arguing for, he says, confuses the right to free speech with the right to privacy.

"I think people on both sides of the aisle," Lesch says, "will be able to see through the smoke and mirrors thrown up by the MPAA and the Media Coalition."