Governor Jerry Brown of California recently signed a new law (SB 1027) which makes it illegal for mugshot websites to charge subjects for photo removal. This makes California the 9th state to enact such a law.
It’s a well-meaning law. But it has unfortunate unforeseen consequences which will ultimately hurt the subjects of these mugshots more than it helps them. Without incentive to remove the mugshots, many of these sites will just leave them up giving people with mugshots no option to remove them at all.
There is no more incentive to remove mugshots.
The California law issues fines each time a mugshot website attempts to charge someone for removal services.
There is nothing in the SB 1027 which says the mugshot websites must remove the photos, which are a matter of public record.
Many sites also publish disclaimers which indicate that they are only reporting arrest records, nothing more, and that these records have nothing to do with the status of convictions. The disclaimers also contain protective language which makes it clear that the mugshots websites can’t guarantee the accuracy of their content.
So the sites are free to retain the photos as long as they like. Now they will get absolutely nothing out of any request to remove a California photograph. As a result, many sites find it more profitable to keep the mugshots right where they are.
It’s now all but impossible to remove mugshots yourself.
The lack of financial incentive for mugshots removal has already backfired. Many mugshots websites sites simply refuse requests from the subject of the shot, especially if that subject comes from a state that has enacted laws which prohibit mugshots websites from charging photo subjects for removal.
Many started removing the “un-publish” service from their websites as soon as the first laws went into effect in the very first states. As a result, there is absolutely no way for the average individual to get the most of these photos removed.
BustedMugshots.com chose to move away from the removal revenue business model altogether. They’ve now gone to a subscription model which gives concerned citizens access to the information in their database. There’s absolutely no profit, therefore, in removing any entry from their database if they can avoid doing so.
Mugshots.com still has a removal application, and they still continue to charge for removal. After all, there are 41 more states that do allow them to do so. Paying is still the only removal option on the site. Of course, Mugshots.com is likely to tell a resident of California that he is out of luck.
Every mugshots adds valuable content to Mugshots.com. This is content which helps them sell the pricey $399+ removal service to other customers. Would you give up content on your website if you knew that you could leverage it into 41 more revenue streams?
All is not lost.
Right now, reputation management companies can still work with many mugshots removal sites to get content removed. These companies often trust the word of a reputation management firm over the word of a photo subject. Rightly or wrongly, many mugshots websites believe that they are engaged in a public service. They see subjects as criminals and are disinclined to believe anything they might say.
It was never a good idea for subjects to try to remove the photos in the first place. Every website gets their information from the very same sources, so paying each site, individually, was a little like engaging in a demented, expensive game of whack-a-mole. Customers would remove one photo only to find 6 more appearing somewhere else. Reputation management has always been the only sane and cost-effective way to hit all the sites at once.
With that being said, lawmakers should be careful. “Cracking down on mugshots websites” certainly writes a great headline and plays well at the polls. But these laws may eventually cause mugshots website owners to dig in their heels to the point where even reputation management firms can’t get them removed—leaving the subjects of these photos with few options for restoring their good name