If you're playing poker, you'd better hope your opponent isn't being bankrolled by a billionaire with a long memory and almost infinite patience. That's at least one potential lesson to be learned from Gawker Media's long-running legal battle against former wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Gawker founder Nick Denton said Wednesday that his bankrupt company has agreed to settle the case. Court documents show that Gawker will pay Hogan $31 million.
That's still a fairly huge sum, but it's significantly less than the $140-million judgment that Hogan and his backer—Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel—won in a Florida jury trial after Gawker published a clip from a sex tape that Hogan said violated his privacy.
Gawker is also paying two other individuals who sued the company a total of $1.2 million. Shiva Ayyadurai sued Gawker for questioning his claim that he invented email, and freelance journalist Ashley Terrill sued because of a Gawker story that criticized her behavior in reporting on the dating app Tinder.
Stories related to all three cases will be removed from the Internet as part of the settlement.
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All three of the lawsuits in question were being funded by Thiel, who said in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year that he was determined to bring Gawker down.
The billionaire got his wish when Gawker filed for bankruptcy protection in June, and held an auction of its assets. Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster, acquired most of the company's assets in August for $135 million, money that was placed in escrow while Gawker appealed the Hogan verdict.
A number of analysts believed that Gawker stood a good chance of having the Hogan judgment either reversed or significantly reduced, especially since two higher-court judges had already ruled in previous decisions that the publication of an excerpt of Hulk Hogan's sex tape was newsworthy, and therefore covered by the protection of the First Amendment.
However, Denton said in a blog post that the prospect of having to spend significant amounts of money to appeal the decision was not a pleasant one, and that he chose to settle in order to put the affair behind him and achieve some kind of closure for Gawker staff.
An appeal "would have cost too much, and hurt too many people, and there was no end in sight," the Gawker founder wrote. Thiel "had committed publicly to support Hulk Hogan beyond the appeal," and showed no signs of ever giving up his pursuit of the company," he said.
The most galling part of the settlement wasn't the cash, but the agreement to remove the stories about Hogan and the other Thiel-backed plaintiffs, Denton said.
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"As the most unpalatable part of the deal, three true stories — about Hulk Hogan, the claim by Shiva Ayyadurai that he invented email and the feud between the founders of Tinder — are being removed from the web." The site where they were published, Gawker.com, was not acquired as part of the Univision deal.
Once the settlement is approved, the remainder of the $135 million that Univision paid will be released from escrow, and will go to Gawker's creditors and investors, including as much as $10 million to Denton himself. A Russian-backed investment fund also put money into the company in January.
Some of the proceeds, Denton said, will also go to Gawker staff who gave up salary or bonuses in favor of getting shares in the now-bankrupt publisher. "This settlement will allow staff equity holders to recoup the salary or bonus they gave up," he said in his post.
Denton also reiterated his desire to get out of publishing, but still continue to explore ways to bring people together online, because he is "convinced that the internet can bring people together in shared understanding rather than just triggering conflict between them."