TOLEDO, Ohio – Two Internet sites that make money by posting millions of mug shots of people who’ve been arrested have agreed to stop charging them to take down their photos as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit came about after a number of complaints from people who said the websites were charging hundreds of dollars to remove the mug shots even if the cases against those arrested had been dropped.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania while legislators in Georgia and Utah have passed laws aimed at stopping the sites from charging to remove arrest photos. But efforts to rein in the sites have been complicated by questions about whether the attempts infringe on First Amendment rights and the difficulty of tracking down who owns the sites.
Some operators say they’re performing a public service by providing information about arrest records that can be found without searching through court records.
Attorney Scott Ciolek, who filed the lawsuit in Ohio, says the practice of charging a fee to remove the mug shots amounts to extortion. Eliminating that part of the business model will make it difficult to operate, he said.
The settlement finalized in late December also calls for the owner of the two sites to pay $7,500 and take down the photos of the three people who brought the lawsuit in Ohio.
Joseph Centrich, an attorney for the company that runs BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com, said the sites will continue to operate and post arrest and criminal records but won’t charge to remove images.
Citizens Information Associates LLC of Austin, Texas, which runs the sites, already had decided in October to stop billing people to get rid of the photos, he said.