January 09, 2013 News » Cover Story

The face of revenge porn 

Awash in 'honest' porn, Colorado Springs' Craig Brittain reigns as one of the most hated men on the Internet

She realized something was wrong when she found a dozen "friend" requests on Facebook from men she didn't know. Then she received a text message from an unknown number, alerting her to a website featuring pictures of her.

After messaging back-and-forth with this seemingly helpful stranger, then doing a little research, she learned more about revenge porn than she'd ever wanted.

Revenge porn, or involuntary porn, has been around since the days of dial-up, and the formula hasn't really changed: A jilted person, usually a guy, will get revenge on his ex by sharing once-private nude photos or videos online. Thanks to adult chat rooms, Craigslist and sexting, the catalog of images grows daily.

Is Anybody Down? is just one of the latest websites attempting to capitalize on this phenomenon, acting as an organized and permanent repository for these shots. The site allows users to submit photos and videos of anyone, which then are inserted into dating-site-style profiles. They include subjects' names and city of residence, and screen shots of their social media pages, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Phone numbers, too, are often included. So while some profiles attract garden-variety comments — "I am look [sic] for a Saturday night hookup on a regular basis that must be discrete" — others venture out of the purely online realm.

"You are beautiful, I texted you today, get back to me so we can talk." Or, "Would love to soak them little tittays with some sticky man-love batter. Ima go call her!"

For convenience, the women are separated by state and country. (While the site does include some men and also couples, we're electing to refer to the victims at large as women since they are featured in the vast majority of profiles.) Using porn-style tags, the site further catalogs the women: black, Asian, bi, horny sluts, lesbian and so on. They may also be assigned to novelty categories: "Your Mom's Nudes" is dedicated to older women; "Beast of a Feast" is where overweight women go; and "Herps Confirmed" is for those who supposedly have an STD.

The submissions that wind up in "Anonymous Bounty" are incomplete, and include appeals to site visitors to help track down, say, Facebook or Twitter accounts of the featured women. This allows the site to function as a one-stop shop for a subject's personal information: where she goes to school, her children's names, her workplace. It also has the net effect of helping Is Anybody Down? rise to the top of a Google search of the woman's name.

Defenders of revenge porn argue that all this information is already available online. Critics counter that these sites deliver this information while also making women, without their express consent, subjects of sexual fixation for their friends, neighbors or bosses.

The woman with whom we spoke for this story asked us not to use her name or any identifying information. Finding her images alongside those of dozens of other Colorado women, she says, was humiliating. Frightening even, when the text conversation she was having took a predictable turn: The stranger asked her if she'd go out sometime.

She has since canceled her Facebook account and changed her phone number.

Since the site went online a year ago, there hasn't been a legal challenge, civil or criminal, mounted against Is Anybody Down?. But that could soon change. Across the country, a number of attorneys have declared war on the revenge porn industry, and they have this site in their crosshairs.

Straight outta Briargate

Craig Brittain seems to have a lot on his mind today. The 28-year-old co-founder and operator of Is Anybody Down? says his roommates are planning to move to Los Angeles.

"I have no idea why people do that," he says of the rock star-wannabes. "Having lived in L.A. for about a year, I have no idea."

Brittain had chased a similar dream, he says, to no avail.

"I thought I was gonna be the big rap star, back in the day," he says. "I moved to L.A., and lived there for six months, and ended up busing tables. I did make some money, but I got so tired of the lifestyle; it's so plastic. It's fake."

There's a picture of Brittain floating around the Internet from this time period. With spiked blond hair and a scowl, he looks determined to conquer the music industry, if not the world.

Nowadays, he blends in. Relatively short and passive with a melancholy gaze over a trim goatee, he comes off as disarmingly harmless — like a kid who spends days at home, playing video games and maintaining a website.

Which is, largely, who he is.

At the Good Company Bar and Restaurant in Briargate, where we've met for afternoon drinks, the bartender calls him "Craiggers." Good Company is close to home, and Brittain often drops in for late-night karaoke, singing "Folsom Prison Blues" or "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Karaoke, he says, "is the loudest thing I do."

He's happy to leave the big city to others, to people like Hunter Moore.

Moore is undoubtedly the biggest name in the revenge porn world. The 20-something, coke-fueled, California-based Lothario shocked mainstream mores with isanyoneup.com. In that site's roughly year-long life, Moore attracted media attention from a number of national outlets, including Huffington Post, Gawker, NPR and cable's Dr. Drew show. Moore seemed to enjoy all of the attention, hiring himself out for parties.

But he shut down his site in April, after the FBI opened an investigation. According to sources who talked with Village Voice, the investigation hinged on claims that someone had stolen, then provided, many of the photos that appeared on Moore's site. Meanwhile, the famous hacker collective Anonymous had declared its own war against Moore.

It was all just too stressful, he told the press, and not fun anymore. (Moore did not reply to a request for comment for this story.) And while he has said that he'll be starting a new site, it hasn't happened yet.

That's where Brittain, and his partner, Arizona-based Chance Trahan, come in.

Brittain says he and Trahan met online, back in the days of MySpace. They were both musicians who were trying to make a go of it as promoters. Brittain remembers that Trahan was working for a hardcore band from Las Vegas, and that the band got big, but fell apart. "He got out of that whole scene." (Trahan did not respond to our request for comment.)

As for Brittain himself, he pursued numerous leads after getting his GED at 16. He says he majored in English at Pikes Peak Community College, worked for the school's paper, and thought about journalism for a while. Promoting and music were dead ends, as was a karaoke business.

When he and Trahan started Is Anybody Down? in December 2011, he says, it was meant to parody Moore's site and his over-the-top ethos.

"We were like, 'Wow, this is what you built, Hunter Moore? You suck,'" Brittain says.

He says that he felt Moore wasted an opportunity to "become a major enterprise."

"We sent in a whole bunch of stuff to him initially, and he wouldn't post it," he says. "There were a whole bunch of people who weren't getting posted. ...

"And we started to think, 'What happens to these submissions when he doesn't post them?' They've got to go somewhere. And we said, 'Ah ha! There's plenty to go around.'"

With Is Anybody Down?, Brittain saw a way to "get into the mainstream."

"I said, 'Hey, we're gonna be big by December.' That's what I said: 'Within a year, we're gonna be big.' And what do you know? Goal reached."

According to Brittain, the site attracts 500,000 unique visitors a month, clocking in millions of page views. Managing the site, he says, is a full-time job that provides "a decent amount of money."

Brittain argues that his site is now revenge porn's top dog, referencing the site's placement on Alexa, a service that ranks the world's websites.

Right now, Is Anybody Down? is in the Top 70,000 worldwide. Its most notable competitors, Pink Meth and yougotposted.com, haven't broken the Top 100,000; 1upem.com is at about No. 464,000.

The takedown

Of course, being an industry king has brought complications.

Last year, a hacker under the Anonymous banner "doxed" Brittain, releasing as much private and personal information about him as possible on the website Pastebin. The doxing yielded accounts of his business endeavors, including a "web design and development firm" that he says he's run with Trahan, and more personal details, such as his parents' names and the assessed value of their house. It notes that he is 5-foot-7 and smokes.

It also links to an old LiveJournal page, where Brittain apparently wrote: "still can't keep a girlfriend and I know why.....girls are evil. They're the same girls that say some bad shit about you and act like they're your friends but really they just want to stab you in the back.... It's pretty sad that they never really grow up - I've tried dating older women and they do the same damn things."

Brittain won't speak to specifics about the doxing.

While Anonymous is an inconvenient enemy, going so far as to recently publish Brittain's social security number online, people like First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza probably pose a greater threat. Randazza, who blogs at the website The Legal Satyricon, has launched a full-scale assault against Is Anybody Down?, Brittain and Trahan, writing in October:

When it comes to porn, here are my rules:

Rule #1: The subjects must be adults

Rule #2: The subjects must be consenting adults

If you don't break either of those rules, I am on your side. I will defend your right to make, watch, display, and sell that content.

Break either rule, and I want to hurt you for the damage you do to others.

I want to hurt isanybodydown.com. I want to hurt them bad. Who's with me?

Randazza, who is based in Las Vegas, is no prude. The attorney has made a career representing websites like Bangbus and MILF Hunter.

"I don't care if you've got a donkey fucking a priest," Randazza tells the Independent. "I've represented a website where all of the women were over 300 pounds. I've represented websites where everybody was over 70. I've represented websites where I've looked at their website and vomited into my trash can, I shit you not."

As Randazza wrote on his blog, the issue here is consent. What Is Anybody Down? and sites like it profit from, he argues, is the exploitation of a person who has taken a photo of themselves in a sexual manner, to be shared with the person or persons of their choice. They didn't take that picture for the entire world to see.

"Just because a girl consents to getting fucked," says Randazza, "doesn't mean that everybody gets to fuck her."

And yet, this isn't the sole reason Randazza's picked a fight with isanybodydown.com. Featured on the site is an ad for "Takedown Hammer," which purports to work on behalf of those photographed.

It goes like this: A woman finds that sexual images of her are on the site. Asking Brittain to remove them likely won't work. Even if the woman has a lawyer write a cease-and-desist letter, Brittain might just ignore it if he thinks "the submission has value to it, if it's something that people visit on a regular basis."

However, if the woman hires Takedown Hammer, for a flat fee of $250, this service will negotiate to have the submission removed.

Brittain says that he makes a little money from the owners of Takedown Hammer, in the way of advertising — the only advertising — on his site. The service, he says, is being provided by a former college buddy who's now a lawyer.

Randazza isn't buying it.

When the takedown service first appeared, it was called Takedown Lawyer. It was, as Randazza found, supposedly run by a New York state-based attorney named David Blade III. A quick search by Randazza found that there wasn't a registered lawyer in New York named "David Blade." Additionally, a simple domain search of the "Takedown Lawyer" website and Is Anybody Down? confirmed that both had been purchased by Brittain.

Randazza reached out to "David Blade" through the website. In the ensuing e-mail conversation, Blade wrote that "David Blade is not my real name. I operate anonymously in order to protect myself and my family. My services are not a scam — I provide the same legal services as any other lawyer specializing in IP law."

Still, Randazza thought it was bogus, and wrote as much. This intrigued Ken White, a former federal prosecutor who practices in California and is now a popular blogger with the libertarian site Popehat.

"I sent Craig Brittain an e-mail asking about David Blade," says White. "He responded, claiming David Blade was real."

White and Randazza forwarded their respective e-mail conversations to some cyber experts they know, who were able to confirm, they say, that the e-mails from Brittain and Blade were originating from the same IP address in Colorado Springs.

"Even though this is an effective way to be cruel to people," White says, "and even though he's made some money off it, there's no indication that he's gotten here via rocketry or anything."

White argues that if Brittain is behind the takedown service, he might have committed wire fraud and interstate extortion, both federal felonies. Plus, by impersonating a lawyer, he might have also violated state statute.

Pole position

Brittain seems undaunted by the legal talk.

"A lot of it's exaggerated — there are no legal violations there," he assures, though he hasn't hired an attorney for the site.

Of Takedown Hammer, he says, "It's one of my buddies. ... They invented this lawyer, and they've since changed things. But I am not responsible for it. Regardless of what anybody tells you, I don't run it."

While he does host the website on his server, the work, he says, is done by an independent third party.

"They get some of the money," he adds, "and I get some of the money."

To Brittain, the service is a humane addition to the revenge-porn formula.

"If you take what Hunter Moore was doing, the major problem is that we had people who were really upset. And they were in danger of harming themselves," he says. "If you can just pay a week's worth of money [to Takedown Lawyer] and keep your life, nobody's going to harass you."

And as far as the invasion of privacy, Brittain sloughs that off as well. He points out that the First Amendment means the New York Post can print a photo of a man about to die on its cover, or that FOX News can air footage of someone committing suicide.

"On my website, you will find pictures of people who are healthy and happy and smiling in most of the pictures," he says. "I'm fairly certain the dead people didn't want to have their pictures taken."

Of the people on his site, he notes, "They took the pictures themselves. They send these pictures to multiple sites." Half of the submissions on his site, he says, come from Craigslist ads. "The majority of these people sent their photos to total strangers."

Brittain likens Is Anybody Down? to a telephone pole. If you get drunk, and crash your car into that pole, you can't blame the pole; you blame yourself for being in that situation. Likewise, if your photos wind up on his site, you can't blame the site; you blame yourself for having the photos taken in the first place.

This sounds reasonable in that no one should expect digital files to forever live solely on a boyfriend's cell phone or stranger's computer. Yet the telephone pole doesn't exist solely to foil drunk drivers. It serves a separate and wholly useful function.

So what useful function does his website serve?

Brittain says Is Anybody Down? is on the cutting edge of an era of total transparency, and the de-stigmatization of sexuality. The negatives of being presented naked on his website are shortcomings of society.

"Occasionally they will get fired," he says of his subjects. "I mean, what do you care if a couple people you know see you naked on the Internet, versus 'Oh, I just lost my job,' or 'I lost my place to stay,' or, 'Now I'm being judged for life'?

"We are headed to an era, one of the most open and tolerant eras for people's beliefs that we've ever seen, where people would accept each other regardless."

Also, it's just a way to make a "modest living." In an Oct. 31 post on Is Anybody Down's? blog, Brittain wrote:

"I really hate this job and I do not do it for revenge, to hurt people, etc., I do it because Barack Obama is the second worst President in US history (second only to Jimmy Carter). The job market is really screwed up. A talented guy like me is easily worth seven figures or more in a good economy. ... Do you know what I'd be doing with my life if it wasn't for this website? Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Back against the wall, going to interview after interview and being rejected like every other honest, hard-working American."

Lawyers and lords

Brittain says revenge porn was never supposed to be a long-term career. He'd like Is Anybody Down? to morph more into a wiki with individual listings, like phone book listings. "Then it becomes a file, where people can write what they want and edit, about people or businesses."

"I've always been a big fan of transparency," he says. "The public wants the truth, even if the truth is not as pretty. That's another reason why people come to our site, to see girls on our website versus the big porn sites. It's real. These are not girls who are stoned out of their minds. These are ordinary, everyday girls. They aren't getting paid big salaries just to fake it. It's honest. It's straightforward. It's got that transparent element."

That, Brittain says, is why it's a threat to the traditional porn sites. And that, he believes, is why Randazza is targeting him.

"I do believe that someone is paying him behind the scenes," Brittain says, adding, "It doesn't make sense to me that somebody who charges a $25,000 retainer would suddenly decide to work pro bono."

Randazza laughs at this allegation.

"There's a conspiracy that the entire porn industry wants to shut down this shitty little website. He's right!" Randazza says. "I met with the other porn lords, and they said, 'Do you realize that if Craig Brittain and Chance Trahan are successful with this, it will threaten our profits?'

"And, actually, a secret Jewish cabal was meeting with us at the time; they're trying to take over all of the world's currency. So me, the porn lords and the Jews got together and decided that we had to put an end to him."

Actually, other attorneys have jumped into the fray. And most interviewed by the Indy say they are working pro bono, simply to help revenge-porn victims.

Denver-based Andrew Contiguglia says he's spoken to multiple people with profiles on Is Anybody Down?, and that he's exploring multiple legal avenues. In Texas, attorney Jason Van Dyke has filed suit against Pink Meth.

"If websites like these are not stopped," Van Dyke says, "one of these women are going to be sexually assaulted. My client was so afraid of that, she actually borrowed a handgun, because that is the level of fear."

As for the First Amendment, Van Dyke argues: "We're not talking about political speech here. Making pornography for public consumption is a sexual act, and like any other sexual act, it requires consent."

Kyle Bristow, an attorney based in Ohio, also scoffs at Brittain's claims to free-speech protections: "You don't have the First Amendment right to tortuously attack women. I don't remember a constitutional right to post naked pictures of people on the Internet."

Bristow says he's spoken with a half-dozen people whose images have been uploaded to Is Anybody Down?. He says it's difficult to find victims who want to move forward with civil complaints, as these porn sites "mostly target young females, who don't have access to the resources for legal action. They also often don't know what their rights are. They are humiliated; they are shamed. They are cyber-raped into silence. They've received hundreds of rude comments via text messages, Facebook, e-mails."

He says that he is also working on a possible case against Is Anybody Down?. While he can't talk much about it, he says, "the days of the revenge porn industry are limited, in my opinion. The house of cards is coming down."

Bristow says that he reached out to Brittain, asking him to stop doing what he's doing. "If he were smart," says Bristow, "he would just shut down his website and apologize to all of the women he has harmed."

Brittain hasn't responded.

Almost famous

A month after his 18th birthday, Brittain was racing down Academy Boulevard in his father's Subaru station wagon. A Colorado Springs policeman clocked him going nearly twice the speed limit.

The officer pursued and Brittain fled, weaving through traffic. According to the police report from the incident, once the police helicopter spotted Brittain, the patrol car backed off, maintaining visual contact.

Eventually, Brittain got caught behind a truck at a stop light, and the cop was able to pull up behind. Brittain tried to drive up onto the curb, but couldn't. Instead, as the police officer wrote, Brittain looked back at him, "put the car in reverse and back[ed] his vehicle into the right rear passenger door" of the police cruiser.

The cop jumped out, opened Brittain's car door and shouted at him to stop the car, but Brittain ignored him. As the officer tried to get the keys out of the ignition, Brittain pulled away. The officer's report reads, "I lost my footing and was only able to hold on with my hands inside the car as my legs were dragging on the ground."

Brittain drove with the policeman that way through a U-turn across all northbound lanes of Academy, to the far right southbound lane.

When it came to an end, Brittain was charged with a number of felonies, including assaulting a police officer. He was convicted of vehicular eluding with injury, a Class 4 felony, and sentenced to five years' probation and two years' house arrest.

Musing over the episode now, sipping Maker's Mark at Good Company, Brittain says he fled because he was having a panic attack. But it wasn't his first run-in with the law. His telling of his adolescence, growing up in a middle-class Air Force family, consists of a lot of hanging out, drag-racing his modified Eagle Talon down Academy, and getting into fights at Chapel Hills Mall. He was one of those kids who "went to juvie a lot," he says, "and grew up fast."

The felony, and subsequent time in house arrest, taught him his lesson: "For better or worse, I am going to behave myself. I am going to at least do something productive."

The music on the jukebox changes to Yes, and Brittain turns from personal history to rumination, leading a two-hour chat through a landscape of his personal likes and beliefs.

He has more respect for a thief than a beggar, he says. At least the thief has the courage to reach out and take what he wants; the beggar has just given up.

"I have a special thing for the Mongols. Genghis Khan? He was a pretty cool guy," he says. "Who else would come up with the idea to mount a horde of goats? ... What kind of guy do you have to be to come up with that?"

A sip of bourbon. A pause to listen to the music.

"Alexander the Great, the young king, very cool, very cool. Who else do I really like? Brutus. Brutus," he says. "I thought Brutus was a cool guy. He's like, 'Caesar, you were cool. You were my boy, but you fucked me over. So now I'm going to stab you.'"

The conversation skids through the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowls to politics and media. His NPR interview, he says, was a hit-job for ratings. Jezebel hates them, but has reported on them. Gawker is ignoring them, but Buzzfeed's interested.

Locally, KRDO is interested as well, he says, as is Brian Maass at CBS4 in Denver. He figures he'll have to talk to Westword at some point.

Brittain clearly enjoys the attention. And the way he sees things going, he'll always be able to get it.

"I probably will be a professor eventually," he says. "After I make all the money, and get old, turn 50-something. I'll be old and gray-haired and over-the-hill, I'll be teaching English in some rural facility somewhere. And I'll be like, 'You know, I used to be a famous celebrity. Here I am in your English class, and I used to be somebody famous.'"


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