South Beach sunbathers unwittingly become fodder for  Internet voyeurs
02/25/99 05:35:53 PM
By Diego Bunuel

Sun-Sentinel, South Florida  (KRT)

   MIAMI BEACH -- It was sunny outside and Annett Puskas decided she
   needed a break from her bookkeeping job in Miami.
   So the 21-year-old native Hungarian decided to sunbathe topless on
   South Beach, something she has done frequently since moving here last
   year. Tired of passersby gawking, she put her towel down on a narrow
   stretch of sand near Fifth Street that attracted fewer spectators and
   seemed more private.
   But, as she lay sunning herself, she and scores of others were being
   secretly filmed by digital cameras perched atop Ocean Drive buildings.
   Some of those pictures would find their way to at least a half dozen
   Internet voyeur sites that charge members up to $20 a month for access
   to the pictures of the semi-nude women on South Beach.
   Not all filming is as discreet. A few enterprising voyeurs simply
   shoulder video cameras and angle them toward topless or thong-wearing
   beachgoers anywhere from South Beach's First Street to 20th Street.
   No matter how they are filmed, the women's pictures often end up being
   sold -- and always without their knowledge -- on the World Wide Web.
   It's a lucrative business that cashes in on South Beach's reputation,
   just as other sites target other beaches worldwide.
   ``I don't want people to see my body on the Internet,'' said Puskas, a
   tall, athletic brunette, who takes off her top to tan but puts it back
   on to swim. ``I don't want my friends or just people to think that I
   do this professionally.''
   While the women are not paid, the Web site publishers profit
   enormously from their images, said David Bernstein, vice president of
   an adult industry publication.
   ``Voyeur sites are the biggest thing on the Internet right now,'' said
   Bernstein, who describes the adult Web business as billion-dollar
   industry with between 45,000 and 200,000 sites up at any time.
   ``Traditional porn is no longer enough. People are always looking for
   something different, and hidden cameras are the next big thing.''
   Under international copyright laws, however, it is illegal to exploit
   someone's image for commercial purposes without their consent, said
   Martin Reeder, a media law specialist at the law firm of Steel, Hector
   and Davis. The women could seek compensatory and even punitive damages
   from South Florida's voyeur publishers for violating a person's
   reasonable expectation of privacy.
   If a woman is topless on the beach, Reeder said, people can look and
   even film her without any violation. But, the moment the film is sold
   and distributed, there is the potential for a legal case, although
   Reeder said he didn't know of any such cases.
   Part of the reason for that is most women used as web cover girls
   don't know they are being filmed and don't check to see if their
   images are being sold. And not everyone who is filmed minds being put
   on global display.
   Michelle Martinez, 19, said she would rather have a share of the money
   generated by her seminakedness than sue the web publisher.
   ``I really don't mind if they use my body, even if they make money off
   it,'' said Martinez, who moved to South Beach from New Jersey. ``But
   it would be nice if I could get some money.''
   Sig Splichal, director of the journalism photography program at
   University of Miami, said the Internet and web publishing have made
   issues of privacy more complex.
   ``Anybody can be a publisher on the Internet and the information is
   disseminated instantaneously and uncensored,'' Splichal said. ``The
   law has not determined completely the liability on the net. The courts
   right now are looking at service providers, such as AOL, as
   bookstores, and as long as they don't edit the content of their pages,
   they are not liable.''
   On the other hand, topics such as child pornography are very regulated
   in the United States, he said. Obscenity is also regulated to an
   extent, but voyeur sites such as the South Beach ones would not
   qualify as obscene under the law.
   At 19, Sarah Lawrence doesn't know much about the law, but she's well
   aware of the effect she has on men when she tans topless.
   ``I am very comfortable with my body,'' said Lawrence, a tall blonde
   who moved from Wisconsin to work in South Beach's clubs. ``But when I
   see those perverts with their cameras zooming in and out, I cover up
   and give them the finger.''
   Equally upset are the women's boyfriends and husbands.
   ``If I see one of those freakezoids filming my wife,'' said Luis
   Huertas, 33, who stood by his wife, Angelica, 30, ``I'd break him in
   People who film the women for money didn't respond to requests for
   interviews but those who do it for themselves don't mind talking about
   Gripping a video camera, Willie Bellamy walks up to topless women and
   films them while he asks a few questions. Most of the women don't seem
   to mind.
   ``This place is unbelievable, man. I mean they are all naked,'' said
   Bellamy, a tourist from New Haven, Conn. ``Up north, we have nothing
   like this.'' Bellamy said he isn't a professional photographer; he
   just films the women to show his friends back home.
   ``This is the first time I came down here and if I told (my friends)
   how it is they wouldn't believe me,'' he said. ''So I am bringing this
   film back to the guys to show them the beach, what they are missing.''
   Miami-Dade County's Haulover Beach is a nude beach, but Parks
   Department spokeswoman Blanca Mesa said beachgoers there don't have to
   worry about being filmed. That beach has entrance checkpoints and,
   while personal cameras are allowed, there is strict screening, she
   Not all of South Beach's rooftop digital cameras are focused on the
   topless beach-goers. Some are used to monitor the beach's weather or
   surf, said Jerry Weaver, systems manager at Erdman Video Systems,
   which provides live digital feed of the beach, among other things.
   Erdman Video Systems takes pictures of the Fifth Street beach from the
   rooftop of a building owned by a friend. Those topless in the line of
   fire usually end up in cyberspace as the camera clicks every half-hour
   during the day.
   The stock of photos, which Erdman distributes for free, is recycled
   weekly. Some voyeur sites copy the images of topless women, put them
   on their webpages, and charge for access to them.
   While the rooftop cameras provide a large quantity of pictures, the
   better quality comes from those toting the video cameras.
   Four French women who have been vacationing in Miami Beach for three
   months say they are routinely filmed by one such video voyeur.
   ``Every day this guy comes around with his videocam and he thinks he
   is being very discreet, but we spot him immediately,'' said Eve
   Kornfein, 47, a fitness teacher in St. Tropez. ``This really bothers
   me. I might sound old-fashioned, but I have my morals and I don't want
   my body to be on someone's television.''
   One day, all of Kornfein's friends turned around toward the voyeur and
   wiggled their bottoms at him.
   ``I don't think he got the message,'' said Nathalie Chauchard, 29, who
   also comes from St. Tropez. ``But I am not going to cover myself from
   head to toe just because some guy is filming.''
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   AP-NY-02-25-99 1824EST