Celebrity sex tapes: a legal history

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Celebrity sex tapes: a legal history

Sun Sep 27, 2009 @ 05:38PM PST

By Eriq Gardner


The latest legal dust-up over the leak of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart's nude frolic video gotus thinking about the evolution of private videos becoming public. So, without further delay... 

In 1946, Marilyn Monroe testified in a trial against two men who were brought up on charges of obscenity for selling nude photographs of the actress. In the years afterward, rumors have circulated about sex tapes involving Monroe. Last year, there were reports of a New York collector spending $1.5 million to purchase a 15 minute video of Monroe performing oral sex, and there have also been rumors of a sex tape involving one of the Kennedy brothers, although many of these myths have been debunked as hoaxes.


The modern sex tape era probably begins with Rob Lowe, who appeared in a video with two women—one underaged—in 1988. One of the girls' mothers sued for $48 million in damages for emotional harm, and for a time, Lowe’s attorney denied that it was actually Lowe in the tape. The actor also claimed that the plaintiff was using “extortionist tactics” to extract money. Lowe eventually made a public apology and checked himself into rehab.


In 1996, Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and rock star husband Tommy Lee sued Penthouse magazine for $10 million over plans to publish photos from a stolen home video of the couple having sex. Anderson and Lee claimed invasion of privacy. The couple also sued distributor Internet Entertainment Group for $1.5 million for distributing the tape. Anderson was successful in court, and made an out-of-court settlement, but was never able to suppress the mass popularity of the illicit video.


R. Kelly almost single-handedly created a new industry after he appeared in several videos. Kelly was sued by four women on allegations of statutory rape and invasion of privacy. The singer was also prosecuted on criminal charges for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old. The case took four years to get to trial and Kelly defended himself by saying he wasn’t the man in the video. In 2008, a jury found Kelly to be not guilty.


In the past decade, sex tapes have catapulted minor celebrities into household names. The most famous example is Paris Hilton, who appeared in a 2004 video that was dubbed “One Night in Paris.” The man in the video, Rick Salomon, originally sued the distributor of the tape for $10 million and the Hilton family for defamation. Hilton also sued the original distributor for $30 million for invasion of privacy and emotional distress. Eventually, the lawsuits were dismissed and Salomon began distributing the video himself, reaching a settlement with Hilton.


This week, Gayheart and Dane filed a federal copyright suit against Gawker Media, seeking more than $1 million in damages. Copyright has formed the basis of most of this decade’s most notorious sex tape lawsuits, including those involving Colin Farrell, Verne Troyer, Gene Simmons and Fred Durst. Even rumors of a sex tape can set off litigation, as we saw from Britney Spears’ unsuccessful attempt to sue US Weekly for reporting the existence of a video featuring the singer and her husband. Still, not everybody sees the need to sue. Some celebrities, including Dustin Diamond and former WWE star Chyna, have actively promoted their sex tape leaks.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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