Bil Browning

PR 101: Dustin Lance Black lawsuit over leaked sex pics

Filed By Bil Browning | August 05, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Dustin Lance Black, naked men, naughty photos, sex pics, Starzlife, unsafe sex

Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black is suing Starzlife, the website that published pictures of the writer having sex with an ex-boyfriend, for three million dollars damages. Black is also suing the person who leaked the naughty photos.

Black, who also speaks on gay rights issues and safe sex practices across America, is planning to sue Starzlife Inc. who published photos of Black engagaing in sex acts in 2006 with his then boyfriend Justin Delancey for breach of privacy and copyright infringement.

Black has also filed a lawsuit against Michael Lawrence Delancey's ex-boyfriend who alleges he stole the photos from Delancey's computer while they were together.

Black claims in the lawsuit that he thought the photos were merely of "their heads and upper torsos", were not of a sexually explicit nature and were to remain private.

This is an incredibly bad idea. As the owner of a blog that's had several unnecessary lawsuit threats, I'd like to offer a bit of free advice on internet public relations. (Also a complete copy of the court filings after the jump)

Two Case Studies in Bad Damage Control

It never ceases to amaze me how stupid some lawyers can be when it comes to the internet. Two recent examples from the Bilerico vaults:

Indiana blogger Gary Welsh
Gary Welsh is a gay Republican blogger that is often the brunt of the local blogosphere's jokes. He's a staunch "birther" who often lashes out at other bloggers and media and has no qualms about being inflammatory or derisive; it's why he's so often a target for ridicule. Bilerico-Indiana alumni Tyrion Lannister was a critic of Welsh's posts about candidates Andre Carson and Barack Obama.

In April of 2008, Welsh sent me a howling e-mail referencing Tyrion's use of a pen name. "You can graciously identify the name of this person, or you can be named as a defendant in a lawsuit and be served with a subpoena commanding you to reveal his identity," he wrote. He wanted his critic silenced.

Rather than email back, I replied in a blog posting that told him, literally, "Fuck directly off." I also took the opportunity to recount all of Welsh's faults, his history with the blogosphere, and his online reputation for using racist and xenophobic tactics. Welsh's tactic backfired; instead of getting what he wanted it made for a bigger story that was picked up by many political bloggers around the state and even a local radio talk show.

His intimidation tactics got my hackles up and left a bad taste in the mouth of most other political junkies. It was simply not a good PR move and he would have been better off letting it go.

Rockstar Energy Drink vs Internet
When Rockstar Energy Drink didn't like a blog post written by a guest contributor, their lawyers came calling. Their threatened lawsuit for millions of dollars really pissed me off and we weren't the only site getting cease and desist e-mails or phone calls.

After I blew the lid on Rockstar's legal blustering, the story spread like internet wildfire. Other bloggers talked about the threats they'd received and stories popped up on numerous websites and in other media. At one point social media giant Reddit's users were complaining at how often something about Rockstar Energy Drink was on their front page as a top story.

In the end, Rockstar did the right thing and started talking to bloggers and critics instead of trying to silence or punish us; a bold agreement was reached between ROCKSTAR Energy Drink and several LGBT rights organizations. This agreement resulted in significant changes to ROCKSTAR Energy Drink's corporate practices to reflect LGBT-friendly policies, and also saw more than $100,000 distributed to four LGBT organizations through a multi-year, systemic gift.

The Dustin Lance Black Sex Pics Controversy

Black's history as a safe-sex advocate was besmirched by evidence of his barebacking. We all make mistakes, however, and while we're a judgmental community, sadly, barebacking isn't something that is likely to stick out in people's minds. He's apologized and explained his actions and should stick to advocating for safe-sex education; his own personal story will only make his testimonies more compelling.

While I don't deny that Black didn't want the photos published, his claims that he didn't know the pics showed anything more than his head and torso ring incredibly false. Let's face it, tons of gay men have naked pictures of themselves. In the days of internet dating, hook-up sites and chat rooms, the cock shot or sexy nude pose has become de rigueur for the sexually active gay man. Nonetheless, most anyone would probably be embarrassed to have those pictures splashed across the internet and queer news portals.

As the owner of a serious queer news and opinion blog, I can testify to the power of sex to bring attention and dollars. Our slightly scandalous posts bring the viewers needed to pay the bills. (See the top ten posts for a typical month and do a comparison of serious vs sexy to see what I mean.) While Black's barebacking might be a mini tempest of talk to begin with, it's the sex factor that will keep gay men coming back for more. As a young, cute and famous queer, Black's image will likely only be bolstered by the nudie shot floating around in cyberspace.

A Better Solution

Dustin Lance Black would be better served by letting the issue die a quiet and ignoble death. The original hit to his image is now taking a double dose of negative publicity as talk about the pictures comes back to the headlines If you want something to go away quietly, you don't shout about it from the roof of a stadium.

While Gary Welsh sank like a ship during his PR battle, Rockstar Energy Drink wised up quickly. Welsh is still a target of ridicule, but Rockstar ended up with quite a bit of positive publicity and goodwill. (Just look at this post; I've been able to link all the past posts which just keeps those events alive on the web.)

Black's ill-served decision to sue the website for a huge sum of money only serves the same purpose. Now his photos are circulating again and being linked to by website that have untold millions of viewers. He's creating his own perfect storm.

Letting the story die on its own while reaping the rewards of the average gay man's penchant for the occasional nudie pic would be a much smarter PR move. Black should fire whoever is advising him and hire a web savvy PR firm; this is a rookie mistake that could have been avoided.

Now, where did I leave those posts about naked pictures of Big Brother 10/11 contestant Jessie Godderz, Prince William photographed taking a piss, Survivor Gabon's Marcus Lehman's penis flop, Big Brother 9's James Zirkand's gay porn past, and Dick Cheney's cock shot? [All links in this paragraph are probably NSFW]

Dlb Lawsuit

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The lawsuit isn't "just" about suing for a large sum of money. Black is also seeking to prevent anyone from profiting from the images and video. We tend to focus on the "sue for money" story, but an equally important part of what he's trying to do is remove the financial incentive for the current holders of the photos and video to publish them (especially those which have not all been released yet). Would you prefer he did nothing as this for-profit company used his intimate acts to make money? If the company really is in possession of video and photos that have not leaked yet, the story was in no danger of dieing a "quiet and ignoble death."

Sounds like he needs a lesson in the Streisand Effect.

I completely disagree! He should seek to be compensated for the pics. They were leaked, and the folks who facilitated leaking them ought to pay out for it.

I have seen & keep a copy of em but a & b are totally seperate!

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