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Posting Another Person’s Mugshot Online

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feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - We love seeing unflattering mugshots of celebrities. But when it comes to finding our own mugshot online, not so much.

Mugshots are a matter of public record. It is perfectly legal to post them online. But there’s now a cottage industry in posting mugshots of average Joes and then charging a hefty fee if the person wants them removed. Is that legal?

There are a few crimes where it’s illegal to charge for something that is perfectly legal to give away. If you know private information about Lindsay Lohan (as if there’s such a thing as private information about Lindsay Lohan), it’s legal for you to sell it to the National Enquirer. But if you first go to Lindsay Lohan and say, “you can pay me to keep quiet or else I will take it to the National Enquirer who will pay me for it” – then it’s blackmail.

Prostitution is another crime where it’s illegal to sell something that is perfectly legal to give away. So the question is: is it illegal to offer to take down a mugshot for a fee that’s perfectly legal to put online?

It’s NOT a crime. But there are now several lawsuits filed claiming that the sites violated the arrestee’s right to publicity. That is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his image so that others don’t get to make money off of it. It’s going to be a big issue for people who aren’t movie stars and whose careers are actually harmed by the photos of them.