Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

Jason Fortuny appeared in Sunday's New York Times magazine — but he may soon be appearing in court.

Nearly two years ago, Jason Fortuny placed a fake sex ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex, and then published the photographs of anyone who responded. Now one of his victims has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against Fortuny in U.S. District Court, and this summer (after four months of effort) finally obtained a valid address for Fortuny and issued a summons.

Two weeks ago — as the New York Times was preparing their article — Fortuny was writing an eight-page letter to the judge finally defending his "Craigslist experiment" against the legal charges, and offering his own testimony about the event. "I take it back," Fortuny wrote recently on his blog. "You might get sued if you do a Craigslist Experiment..."

But it's still very complicated.

According to the suit Fortuny "acted with actual malice to harm and deceive the individuals responding to the Craigslist ad." The suit demands a jury trial and seeks a full slate of damages — compensatory, statutory, and punitive, plus attorney's fees and costs.

"Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, harm arising from the foregoing wrongful conduct by Mr. Fortuny," the lawsuit complains, identifying the victim as John Doe and arguing that the incident affected his private life "and the manner in which he is viewed among family, friends, and colleagues."

Fortuny's prank traumatized John Doe, it argues, causing him to "suffer and continue to suffer from humiliation, embarrassment, lost opportunity of keeping his family together, and emotional distress."

John Doe is asking that Fortuny be enjoined from publishing the photo, that Fortuny destroy his copy of the photo (and sexy email), and to "cooperate in the removal...from any cached sites."

The specific charges?

Count one: Violation of copyright act
Count two: Public disclosure of private facts
Count three: Intrusion upon seclusion
Count four: Injunctive relief


Is he guilty of disclosing personally identifiable private facts? There aren't any, Fortuny argues. "In his communication, Plaintiff does not use his actual name, or provide any method of personal contact," he writes in his motion to dismiss — noting that the victim had used an anonymous email address.

And whatever Fortuny published, the victim had volunteered, the motion claims. "I did not obtain any information by intruding into Plaintiff's personal space, eavesdropping, or illegally intercepting any communication," Fortuny argues. "Thus, the disclosure of Plaintiff's e-mail is not, by its nature, personal or intrusive."

And what about the copyright law? Fortuny's motion says that there's been no violation of copyright law, since the photo he's republished is used "to discuss how DMCA law can be used to be chill free speech." (After the photo was removed from another site, Fortuny had re-published it in October of 2006 in a blog post called "Don't tread on me, or, how I learned to stop worrying and ignore DMCA threats.") Fortuny had filed a counter-notification disputing the copyrighted status of the photo. ("The counter notification basically says 'you're a liar liar pants on fire'," Fortuny wrote on his blog, "and adds that if you don't respond within 14 days, I get to put my shit back up.")

Now his motion adds that "The use of the photo is in reduced form, is transformative, does not affect market value of the original photo, and is for a purpose of education and public interest." The motion also notes that it's a 4-kilobyte image (and not the original 22 kilobytes), and "there is ample case law that protects the fair use of reduced versions of media, especially for the purposes of education and discussion."


Yes, there were sexy shenanigans on Craiglist, but Fortuny adds that while he did re-publish this particular photo, "there was no malicious intent in my actions. This was never a plan to embarrass people or to single out a subset of the population."

The Craigslist griefer writes that he understands the hurt and frustration inflicted on the unsuspecting victims. But Fortuny also cites a clear warning in Craigslist's terms of service that the information on the site might indeed be inaccurate or misleading. "If I made the mistake of telling secrets to someone I didn't know online and it got out...I'd be kicking myself pretty hard. I would most definitely be shouting expletives at my computer screen. But that's the risk we all take online, as well as in life. Whether it's someone's e-mail, picture, or personal ad, there's no guarantee of identity, and no guarantee that you won't be betrayed. And there never will be."

But the plaintiff obviously disagrees. The lawsuit cites a section of Craigslists' privacy policy stating that users "agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available content that includes personal or identifying information about another person without that person's explicit consent." Making an obvious point, the suit notes that the plaintiff intended his sexy photo and email "to be a private communication between himself and the 'woman' who placed the advertisement... The public disclosure of these private facts represents an intrusion upon the privacy of Plaintiff that is objectionable and highly offensive to a reasonable person."

"The foregoing acts of infringement have been willful and intentional, in complete disregard of and with indifference to Plaintiff's rights," the suit argues. "Moreover, the uncertainty of the extent of the intrusions continues to cause Plaintiff a great deal of anguish and suffering." The facts disclosed "were not of any legitimate public concern," it argues, adding that "Mr. Fortuny acted with actual malice."

"Unless enjoined and restrained by this Court, Mr. Fortuny will continue to cause Plaintiff great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money."


Appealing to the court's sympathy, Fortuny shares a personal statement with his own perspective.
I've been asked over and over, "Jason, why did you do it?" To be honest, it was a small act that quickly spun out of control. It's not like I woke up that morning and said, "hey, I think I'll start a controversy today and get my face in the news."

I posted the fake ad with the sole intention to satisfy my curiosity about what kinds of people respond to such overt advertisements. I expected no responses. I didn't believe anyone would fall for such an obviously fake ad on a website that tells its users to exercise caution. When I received those 175 responses to my Craigslist ad, I was blown away by the utter disregard for personal privacy...

When Second Life's user database was hacked, the press coverage was minimal, Fortuny argues, while his own stunt generated a disproportionate huge wave of attention. "That there was so much coverage truly confused me," he writes, adding that "I've struggled to integrate this experience into my life, and to make it productive."

And Fortuny also argues that he doesn't ridicule the individuals who responded, but talks instead about "the larger issue of privacy on the Internet, and how to be proactive in protecting one's private information."

"[B]ringing legal action against me may punish me, but it won't change or even impact online culture in the positive ways that I describe above."

But for the moment, he's left grappling with the legal nuances of his defense. For example, he points out that though both he and his victim live in Washington state, the suit was filed in federal court in Illinois. (The suit argues it's a federal issue, and that Fortuny also spoke about the incident at a "Lulz Con" in Chicago.) There's one more interesting wrinkle. The plaintiff did copyright his photograph — but apparently as an after-thought. (Fortuny published the image on October 6 of 2006, and the plaintiff began his copyright filing on October 12.)
The Plaintiff is seeking to punish my discussion of his DMCA actions by abusing the intent of copyright law, stretching the common law terms of privacy, using unverified e-mail as alternative process, and side stepping personal jurisdiction...

I have never been afraid to answer for my actions and to face anyone who takes exception with me. This case, however, is quite different. This is a case of a person trying to get his pound of flesh out of me for my perceived wrongs.

Fortuny argues that tactics like the victim's frivolous DMCA notice "erode the free speech rights of Internet users everywhere, especially the growing world of bloggers and other self-published groups. When an individual uses copyright law and privacy torts to silence critics or unjustly control publicly relevant discussion, it damages everyone's rights."

Ironically, the day after filing the lawsuit, John Doe's attorney had to ask the court to delete the copyright application because it revealed his embarrassed client's real name.


Almost two years later, more than 180 responses remain online at Encyclopedia Dramatica, including photographs of more than 94 men (and in some cases, close-ups of their genitals).

Fortuny reportedly copied the text verbatim from an actual Craigslist ad, which gave his lure an extra authenticity. "i am 27 yo sexy str8 woman, 5 ft 7 in, 145 lbs..." the ad promised. "send ur stats and a face pic and i'll return mine to you..."
looking 4 ruff man, harley rider... i have a leg spreader, crop, cane and metal cuffs. spit on me, verbally abuse... "i am looking 4 a white or latin only, str8 brutal dom muscular male 30-35 yo who is arrogant, self-centered, nasty, egotistic, sadistic who likes 2 give intense pain and discipline...

But so far the resulting legal actions have been centered on the uses of copyright law. Neither "John Doe" nor his lawyers returned our request for a comment — nor did Craigslist or the EFF. But Jason Fortuny did, urging internet users "protect your free speech rights. Stand up to copyright and DMCA law abuse."

But so far, he's standing alone. ("Let me introduce you to my amazing lawyer," Fortuny wrote on his blog. "Me.") He contacted the Chicago ACLU, according to the post, saying that they replied that handling e-mail was "too complicated, could you please send us a fax." So faced with expensive legal fees and his own counter-arguments about copyright law, "here I am, going Pro Se on this. This is going to be fun."

In an email today, Fortuny conceded that "The case is at a very early stage, and it's not at the forefront of my brain right now." But a hint of his true sense of impunity may have slipped into his letter to the court. "I make no excuses about who I am," he writes in his motion to dismiss. "I am frequently rude, unsympathetic, unempathetic, and politically incorrect, to put it mildly.

"But there's no law against that."

See Also:
Jason Fortuny Speaks
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
In the Company of Jerkoffs

37 thoughts to “Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued”

  1. “There’s one more interesting wrinkle. The plaintiff did copyright his photograph — but apparently as an after-thought. (Fortuny published the image on October 6 of 2006, and the plaintiff began his copyright filing on October 12.) “

    Copyright is automatic at the point of creation of any work.

    “In all countries where the Berne Convention standards apply, copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office. Once an idea has been reduced to tangible form, for example by securing it in a fixed medium (such as a drawing, sheet music, photograph, a videotape, or a computer file), the copyright holder is entitled to enforce his or her exclusive rights. However, while registration isn’t needed to exercise copyright, in jurisdictions where the laws provide for registration, it serves as prima facie evidence of a valid copyright and enables the copyright holder to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees. (In the USA, registering after an infringement only enables one to receive actual damages and lost profits.)”


    shouldn’t solicit people on the interweb if you want your family to stay together, buck-o. John Doe deserves to be embarrassed.

  3. While many will focus on the “prank” aspect of this story, a lot of people are missing out on one thing that is quite serious. And that’s the allowing of service through email. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [rule #45 governs this, as do some other parts] do not allow for service of court summons by email. They stipulate the conditions required for service. If law firms and sue-happy assholes all over the country can now simply send their summons through email, we are in big, big trouble.

    Also, I agree with Fortuny’s objection to venue. He does not, nor never has lived in Chicago, neither has the plaintiff. In fact, both live in Washington. Why is this being handled in a court nowhere near the two of them? How could a jury from Chicago represent the social moral standards of Seattle? That’s ridiculous.

  4. Personally, I hope Jason gets his ass handed to him in court. Not because of the experiment, but because he’s being a dick about the resulting fallout.

  5. Jason, even if you turn out to be technically correct in the eyes of the law, it doesn’t make you any less of a douche. If it wasn’t your intent to embarrass or humiliate, what was the purpose of posting the pictures, huh? Don’t tell me you couldn’t have had your “experiment” without doing so.

    You and everyone else knows you did it to humiliate those people. There is no other reason. Although you are correct that more people should be mindful of their lack of privacy on the Internet, I would put you in the same group as the hackers/crackers that break into computer systems and argue that their admin should have made it more secure. That’s about like breaking into someone’s house and telling them they need better locks. Douche.

  6. This takes me way back. This was the guy whom Michael Crook famously duplicated, shooting him to some of his initial Internet fame, that is, before being sued by Jeff Diehl with the aid of the EFF. Small world.

    This time around though, I am looking forward to taking a more casual interest in the case.

    It will be interesting for me to see how the courts rule on this matter, especially in regards to the copyright issues…

  7. I hope this kid looses every penny. What he did was simply malicious and harmful. I think he should be in jail for the next 10 years for what he’s done

  8. Yeah, well, sniveling little computer weasels with no life of their own should be leery of the consequences when you put people’s business in the street.

    People who live in the unreal world of internet life should remember that there are still plenty of grown men who work in physical jobs who will feel something like this deserves payback. And I’m not talking about some message board flame-job.

  9. throw the FUCKING book at him, what a worthless human being, he did it simply out of boredom and to satfisy his own sick sense of humor.

  10. For those who think John Doe got what he deserved, you are making a huge assumption. If he had not made this offer, John Doe might have had a long, happy marriage with a loving family and never have cheated. Perhaps he was even looking for an ego stroke but would have never gone through with it. We don’t know. That’s why entrapment is morally wrong, including things like Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator”.

    Tempting someone into something they might not have otherwise done, and then claiming you have “exposed” them as “that type of person” is all wrong. Which one among you can claim you could never be tempted into doing, or at least considering enough to investigate, something that you wouldn’t normally do? No matter what the reward offered? Isn’t this what the movie Indecent Proposal made us think about?

  11. Oh, come on, really. John Doe got what he deserved, really and so did Fortuny. The prank was malicious, but I fund some sick humor in it. God damn it, people, these guys are complete idiots! They fell for such an obvious lie, they sent pics of their dicks for crying out loud.

  12. Wow, 2yrs on and I’m still interested in how this pans out. I fear someone may feel the need to make an example of Jason, but you have to admire he has balls (There’s evidence out there:-) and he’s defending himself too (possibly his downfall :-(

    Didn’t John Doe and co. just get caught with their pants down (quite literally in some cases:-)?

    The Copyright issue doesn’t seem appropriate, just an attempt to ‘get him’ on a technicality, …sour grapes anyone?

  13. Chad, what a load a bull. John Doe got what he deserved. No one enticed him to visit the hookup section of Craigslist to look for a casual sex. The fact of the matter is that Fortuny’s fake ad caught John Doe’s attention, and Doe decided to respond to it. It exposes Doe as someone who goes online looking for casual sex. Big deal. He did it, and he should own up to it. He’s just pissed off his little secret got out and wants someone to pay.

    Likewise, with Dateline’s “To Catch A Predator”, the sex offenders on that show make a choice to go to an internet chat room, make sexual comments to a minor while online, and then travel to the minor’s home. While you are right that there is no hard evidence they were going to follow through with anything at the minor’s home, it still exposes the fact that most of these men have solicited someone they believe to be a minor through a chat room.

    For those of you who want Fortuny to lose this case, you should realize that the internet is not in any way a private place. Everything a person says or does on the internet can come back to haunt them. Your comments make me wonder if any of you have skeletons on the internet you’re afraid of coming out.

  14. “Your comments make me wonder if any of you have skeletons on the internet you’re afraid of coming out.”

    Defending trolling with more trolling doesn’t seem particularly effective to me.


  15. Hoist on his own petard! Forsooth and alas.


    Love watching scum like Fortuny earn such public demise… Ironically his little experiment proved a few things he hadn’t counted on. Sweet irony! Hee.

  16. @ George Says: “I hope this kid looses every penny. What he did was simply malicious and harmful. I think he should be in jail for the next 10 years for what he’s done”

    Got something to hide George?
    If some perv responds to a fake sex ad and then bitches because his family found out – who is the real criminal? Is it the perv that with malicious intent deceived his family as to his true nature or the poster of the false information that has lured a despicable adulterer to his doorstep?

  17. Fortuny is just another asshole. I hope the judge takes him to the cleaners. It is obvious he was out to ‘out’ people and cause them embarrassment at the very least. Rot in hell scammer!

  18. It always amazes me how people are so unable to separate a desirable outcome from an undesirable process. Even if you think Jason deserves to be “punished”, the legal ramifications of this case are nothing but scary.

    But people get so caught up in the idea of a “bad guy” getting what he “deserves” that they ignore the fact that the service of process, venue, and causes of action in this case are all laughably preposterous and, if accepted, would set a devastating precedent for future Internet cases, where the defendant might not be someone so easy to paint as a villain. Like you, maybe.

    Think about this case with your heads, not your hearts. This is bad, bad law, pure and simple.

  19. Man this is awesome, I hope Jason wins! Long live free speech, too bad he lives in the land of the supressed.

    I don’t see anything wrong or even mildly unfunny about this, morally challenging maybe if you’re a prude. Anyone that completely disregards personal privacy and safety as these guys did deserve to be ridiculed online that’s what the internet is for!

  20. As much as I’d love to Fortuny and his ilk fry to the maximum extent, I’m only going to support his punishment for the laws/ToS he was found to have broken.

    Technically, any work is copyrighted when it’s first created, but the official filing of the copyright is what makes it more legally defensible in US courts. Either way, considering Fortuny isn’t claiming to have “created” this photograph himself, I think the copyright will hold, but maybe not to the full extent of the DMCA (which is mostly a bullshit act anyway).

    However, I would hold Fortuny fully accountable for deliberately disclosing private information obtained through a Craigslist ad. Whether or not it contains John Doe’s real name, regular email address, etc. doesn’t matter. What does is the fact that he posted a false ad, obtained personal information from people that was meant to be transmitted in private and he posted it to his blog for all the world to see.

    I don’t care if JD had marital problems to begin with or that Fortuny is an insufferable troll: at the very least, Fortuny broke Craigslist’s ToS. How much monetary damage that translates into remains to be seen.

  21. This became an “educational” endeavour after the lawsuit?
    Even the ACLU won’t help him.
    Hang his lying, misrepresenting ass.
    He’s lucky to still have teeth with which to chew his food.

  22. Every comment expressing anger at Jason makes me think the commenter is also the kind of person who would keep up the sham of having a family while at the same time responding to ads for casual (and violent) sex.

    I don’t think the stunt was very nice, but if someone got caught being unfaithful to his wife and sneaking around, maybe he shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place.

    I totally agree that there are so many people who don’t realize how much information can be passed around over the internet.

    Also this suit is another example of how lawyers will do anything for a buck. Who do you think built the case and filed in Illinois.

  23. Ethically, there are arguments for and against on each side, but having read through a bunch of stuff about this online, I found myself grinning on more than one occasion. I’m a sucker for a good gag, and let’s face it the best gags are always at others’ expense. Who would admit to being arrogant who wasn’t also base enough to deserve public humiliation?

  24. It’s a difficult issue because it articulates to questions not only of copyright and technology but about social good and morality, believe it or not. For anyone who’s done any research on DMCA, it’s bad whodoo. Its ostensible aim is to protect artists; it actually helps limit any real creative space in a public commons. And, yeah, copyright obtains automatically with creation (fixation in a tangible medium) and it was sent as a personal email…but there is provision for “newsworthy” use which I support when the use of images provide a public good which outweighs public privacy–say, repressed photos of coffins of US soldiers, or even Dateline (which I thought awful and bathetic) which was responding to a perceived “epidemic” of internet predators. He won’t be able to argue that, though, since he’s already claimed that he did it as a lark, without forethought, etc.

    Still, what really worries me (and I’m an academic who diggs heavily and studies new media) is the utter lack of charity on this Troll’s part (I like it as a noun which refers to Fortuny). Not only this other dude, but likely all or most of his victims’ live were substantially —-ed (pun intended) because he “caught them with their pants down.” Reminds me of the bully in sixth grade who kicked open the stall door to show the other kids you were doing your business. I agree, it also smacks of entrapment. Lastly, it reminds me of the mind-numbingly ignorant beauty contestant who became famous recently– not just for a week but wherever she goes now. In a digital age, there’s a lot to be said for anonymity and forgiveness and charity (the ability to realize how you might identify with the person judged as someone who also makes mistakes and feels pain). We should remember to remember these things.

    And by the way, arguments which suggest that people who disagree with you have “something to hide” are fallacious. They’re ad hominem attacks. Unethical and ignorant. You can read more here:

  25. I have just finished a documentary on Rhode Island where prostitution is legal.
    Most if not all of the Asian Massage parlors use CL to advertise. Check out and see the fight for and against prostitution.
    See what is really going on “behind closed doors”

  26. Going to criminal and civil court is nothing new for Jason Fortuny:

    Kcdc-west Div (sdc) Y4-000622 01-26-2004

    King Co Superior Ct 08-9-32243-8 10-23-2008

    King Co Superior Ct 08-2-30301-2 09-04-2008

    Pierce Co Superior 00-2-08421-3 06-02-2000

    King Co Superior Ct 08-2-36569-7 10-23-2008

    Pierce Co Superior 01-9-08250-8 06-22-2001

    Kirkland Municipal 17424 06-12-2002

    Kcdc-east Div (isq) C00006878 06-03-2004

    Kcdc-east Div (ned) Y2-030364 04-24-2002

    Fircrest Municipal C00035455 03-29-1999

    Kirkland Municipal 16442 09-04-2001

    Federal Way Muni CA0029461 05-29-2003

    Kcdc-east Div (isq) I00032441 06-23-2004

    Kcdc-east Div (isq) Y4-001372 03-02-2004

  27. Regardless of the facts, it is illegal to publish photographs and information about someone online without their consent and obviously the law agrees.

  28. Miserable weasels like jason fortuny ruin honest chances at romance and fullfilment for the rest of us. Anyone who has been assualted by the waves of fake idiots on each and every dating site knows this. I hope he is punished. I hope it sets legal precedence. If only “public douchebaggery” was part of the legal code.

  29. The majority of the filth that responded to Jason’s fake ad were married. Kudos to Jason Fortuny for exposing the double standard heterosexual deviance these scumbags attempted to participate in, positively disgusting. I hope Jason appeals, the judge who sided with that sue happy pussy coward due to obvious sick skeletons in his own dirty closet.

  30. “The majority of the filth that responded to Jason’s fake ad were married. Kudos to Jason Fortuny for exposing the double standard heterosexual deviance these scumbags attempted to participate in, positively disgusting.”

    Written like a truly frigid & judgemental housewife.

    What these people do is not my or your business, Ms. Snooty. I may or may not agree with what people do in their private lives but I don’t call them “scumbags” or “positively disgusting”, especially without having all the facts.

    Mr. Fortuny is most certainly not a “hero” nor does he deserve “kudos.”

    Those who would eagerly humiliate others deserve no admiration.

    Especially those who attempt to justify humiliating others under the guise of being a “proponent of free speech” or hiding behind technicalities.

    This boils down to another Anonymous Internet Warrior finally beginning to face the consequences of his immature & self-indulgent behavior. It may very well cost he (and others like him) his life one day.

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