Hulu’s Pam & Tommy confirms Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s original claims that they were violated in the most egregious way when their private sex tape was stolen from their Malibu home in 1995 by Rand Gauthier. It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but that is nothing in comparison to a disgruntled electrician.
Their luck worsened when Gauthier, who had connections in the porn industry, went on to make copies of the tape and sell them through this new thing called the internet. Of course, no one knew at the time that the tape would spread like wildfire.
The eight-episode mini-series, which is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article, has been as controversial as the sex tape itself. While many are focused on Lily James and Sebastian Stan’s exceptional performances and incredible transformations, others feel Anderson and Lee have been violated yet again with details of their lives exposed for the entertainment of strangers. Neither had any involvement in the series.
Anderson and Lee were essentially the first victims of online revenge porn and the viewer gets to see what this horrific invasion of privacy did to their marriage and especially to Anderson and her career. The way in which she suffered is devastating and infuriating. Despite the laws trying to keep up with technology, watching this makes you wonder if this could happen today.
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“This was a circumstance of the time,” says Beverly Hills entertainment attorney, Mitra Ahouraian, who specializes in film, television and intellectual property. “There were so many things that contributed to this. There was a perfect storm that allowed this to happen.”
She points out that because this occurred during the infancy of the internet, it was able to quickly get out of hand. “Copyright infringement laws didn’t even account for what could happen on the internet because they were written in 1976. It was too soon and too late. Too soon because the laws hadn’t changed yet and too late because by then, it was already out there. The situation had already gotten out of hand and there was just no way to close Pandora’s Box.”
Ahouraian, who was not involved in this case, details changes since Anderson and Lee’s sex tape leaked. A person would now have to register with the U.S. Copyright office in order to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement (as of a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling). Because Anderson and Lee owned the tape and it was stolen, there would now be criminal penalties associated with this as well as a potential case of criminal copyright infringement, which could include jail time. However, for a civil case for copyright infringement you can’t bring a lawsuit without registering the copyright to the tape. “By today’s laws, a celebrity would have to actually register the tape with the U.S. Copyright Office before they could file a copyright infringement lawsuit against someone who stole their sex tape. Registering it would put the tape in public record, likely defeating the point.”
As of 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted into federal law, which significantly steepened the penalties for copyright infringement on the internet. Financial penalties can go as high as $150,000 for each use if it is willful (each play/view on the internet), plus attorney fees.
The couple was also repeatedly harassed by paparazzi. Since California is densely populated with celebrities, the state has since enacted privacy laws with penalties for following celebrities and taking photos and videos for profit.
“The law is a moving body and it is always trying to keep up with the times but often changes don’t happen until someone is impacted negatively,” says Ahouraian. “Unfortunately, the internet made copyright infringement much easier but we have learned a lot since the 90s when Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape was widely disseminated across the internet. There are not only new laws and penalties, but new procedures and processes in place to make it easier for copyright owners to contact internet service providers to take down this type of material. That simply didn’t exist in the early days of the internet.”
Anderson and Lee know all too well what happens once information is out there. For them, the damage is done and they missed the benefits of these newer laws. In 1998, Anderson filed for divorce from Lee and though neither made a profit from their own sex tape, others did.
Pornographer and Internet Entertainment Group founder, Seth Warshavsky, burned Gauthier and sold the DVD rights to Vivid Entertainment for $15 million and the tape went on to generate $77 million.
As the law aims to keep up with technology, Ahouraian works hard to protect potential victims. “As we’ve seen all too often, once it’s out there, it’s out there.”