Mugshot Removal: Buyer Beware

by Regan Joswiak

Photo by Henry_Spencer

Photo by Henry_Spencer

The internet allows for fast, easy access to public records. Anyone who is arrested could find their mugshots plastered all over the internet. There are countless websites—third-party ones—that take mugshots from police department websites and put them on their own. Even if charges are dropped or the individual is found not guilty, the mugshots can remain viewable online forever.

So how do you get your mugshot removed? There are a number of sites that offer mugshot removal services, and the mugshot sites themselves offer to take the photos down for a fee. However, the practice of charging people to remove their photo is very controversial. In Ohio, there was a lawsuit filed against JustMugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com, MugshotsOnline.com, FindMughots.com, and MugRemove.com. For the full story, click here.

Photo by Pearson Scott Foresman

Photo by Pearson Scott Foresman


The issue is not the photos being public, since the law generally allows for the public to have access to these types of records (see Texas Government Code, Chapter 552). The issue is that many interpret the fee that is charged to take a mugshot down as a violation of the Right of Publicity Law, which states that “one who appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy” (see Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 652C). Texas recognizes this through the tort of misappropriation and the courts have referred to the Restatement of Torts to fill in the gaps with the common law, as discussed here.

Another question is whether mugshot websites fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). A case was filed in 2010 against Spokeo, a data broker that publishes its own information profiles on consumers, for violating the FCRA by marketing these profiles as an employment screening tool. Spokeo collects data such as a person’s name, address, age range, e-mail address, hobbies, ethnicity, religion, participation on social networking sites, and photos. The company paid $800,000 to the Federal Trade Commission to settle the charges. For more information about the FCRA and this case, click here.

So where should the line be drawn? Some consider mugshot websites to not fall under the FCRA as long as the information is not marketed toward employers or insurance companies, as the attorney in this article suggests.

Despite all of the controversy, the practices of these sites are currently considered legal. This is a buyer beware industry, and as such there is some information to take into account if a mugshot is found online:

• Fees vary depending on the mugshot site and the mugshot removal services, but many of the latter charge a starting fee of $399 and go up from there depending on the circumstances. The lowest fee found thus far is $329 as a starting cost.

• A request can be made to mugshot sites in the cases of dismissed charges, record expungement, and non-guilty verdicts. A number of sites claim that the photo will be removed free of charge in these circumstances. As seen in the story here, however, this is not always the case.

• Getting a mugshot removed from one mugshot site means just that—there will still be other sites that will have the mugshot. Many suspect that some sites are in “cahoots” with each other and receive payment for a photo to be removed, only to have the photo immediately appear on another site.

• This is why mugshot removal/reputation management companies have gained popularity, since they claim to suppress or remove information so that it is removed from search engine results. However, many of the mugshot sites are actually affiliated with these businesses as well, as seen here.

Anyone who decides to use mugshot removal services should thoroughly research their options. Here are some additional considerations when looking for a reputation management site:

• This one is obvious, but it must be said: do not deal with a company that does not list their physical address and telephone number. A client should be able to know where the business is located and have access to multiple ways of contact.

• Look for a company that offers a guarantee. It is also important to pay attention to both how long this guarantee lasts and how long it takes to see results.

• Make sure that there is a one-time-only, comprehensive fee.

• Research the company through online reviews. This can help in finding out if anyone has had an issue with them or if they are affiliated with a mugshot site.

There are also sites—such as BrandYourself.com—that allow users to improve their search results on Google. BrandYourself.com is a do-it-yourself product that can be used to upload positive personal links on Google’s first page of results. The basic service, which allows for three links to be “boosted,” is free. The premium service costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 annually for unlimited links. To read more about this, see the article here.

These are just some tips when delving into mugshot removal. Student Legal and Mediation Services does not recommend any particular mugshot removal or reputation company. If you have any questions regarding arrests or mugshot removal, call our office at (936) 294-1717, send us an e-mail at slms@shsu.edu, or make an appointment online at http://www.shsu.edu/legalservice.

SLMS—Pointing Bearkats in the right direction.

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