Court Ruling on Snopes Ownership Dispute

Court rules litigant tried to ‘circumvent’ prior court decision.

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Illustration of a gavel.

Dear Readers,

Our lawsuit continues, but there is news. This is a very public fight – and one that we would like to see resolved as soon as possible.

This case is still moving through the courts, but today we’re excited to share an important development.

A brand-new court ruling addresses the ownership of Snopes Media Group. A judge issued the ruling on April 2, 2021. This is the most recent decision that impacts who controls Snopes, providing much-needed clarity for our team.

For his perspective on this latest court ruling, Snopes CEO David Mikkelson answers some questions below – and explains why this lawsuit battle sometimes feels like a game of “Whac-a-Mole.”

The Snopes Guy

Who is Mikkelson and why is his perspective relevant? Well, without him, there would be no Snopes. He founded Snopes back in 1994 as a passion project. It began with Mikkelson’s interest in investigating urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore – but it soon grew into much more.

Nearly three decades since Mikkelson launched his little website in the internet’s early years, Snopes has grown into the world’s best-known source for debunking rumors and misinformation.

Today, Mikkelson serves both as CEO and as the company’s single largest shareholder. Mikkelson, 61, lives in Tacoma, Washington. He runs Snopes remotely from his home office, overseeing a virtual newsroom of fact-checkers located across the U.S.

Mikkelson views the ongoing litigation as a critical fight for the future of Snopes. See his responses below.

Q: First, what is this litigation all about?

Mikkelson: It’s a long and involved story, but here’s a summary. This litigation started out as a dispute back in 2017 between Snopes and a vendor company that provided website/advertising services to us, Proper Media.

We canceled their vendor contract, lawfully and for very good reasons.

The owners of Proper Media didn’t agree with our decision, and they got mad. They also acquired shares in Snopes and became minority shareholders. They sued us, and then they sued us again. And again! We have tried to treat them fairly, as we would any shareholder.

This is where things get even more complicated. In addition to suing Snopes as a vendor, they also sued Snopes in their capacity as shareholders. It’s fair to say that these lawsuits have been a major drain on Snopes in terms of resources, time, attention, and energy.

They tried different tactics, different courts, and at least three law firms. They targeted me individually, as well.

That’s why, for the past four years, we have been in court.

Q: What is the ownership dispute and who owns Snopes?

Mikkelson: When you build something great, other people want to get a piece of it.

Snopes Media Group is privately held, and the company is divided up into shares. I own half of the shares.

These litigants would love to overturn the current management of Snopes Media Group and everything we’ve built. So, as I mentioned, while the owners of Proper Media were suing us over their vendor agreement, they also began claiming to own half of Snopes. They now sit on our board and vote on company decisions – even though a court has stated that they are “overtly hostile” to Snopes.

I, along with a couple of other shareholders, still own most of the shares. The litigants remain minority owners.

Q: What is the latest court decision about?

Mikkelson: Basically, this decision by the Superior Court of California is good news for Snopes. It addresses the most recent ownership dispute.

There’s a guy named Tyler Dunn, who is one of the Proper Media members, and who is also a Snopes shareholder.

Dunn filed a lawsuit on August 31, 2020. The lawsuit is related to, but attempted to ignore, all the other litigation that began in 2017.

Dunn’s lawsuit claimed that his shares should be merged with those of other owners into one single share equaling 50% of Snopes. Theoretically, this would allow the principal owners of Proper Media to deadlock the company.

This lawsuit should never have been filed. The Superior Court already decided that the shares were divided among the individual owners. In fact, that judgment took place three years ago – in April 2018.

But that didn’t matter to Dunn, who decided to waste time and money by suing again on that same issue.

It seemed clear to us that his lawsuit was frivolous, but the company and I still had to retain counsel to deal with the lawsuit.

Q: What did the judge say?

Mikkelson: The judge noted that Dunn was trying to “circumvent” the previous ruling on this matter. Here’s a direct quote from the March 30, 2021, ruling in the Superior Court of California – County of San Diego: 

The Court agrees with Defendant David Mikkelson. Plaintiff Tyler Dunn (“Plaintiff”) is attempting to circumvent this Court’s ruling in Proper Media LLC vs Bardav Inc., case number 2017-16311 (“Lead Case”).

Q: What is the impact of this litigation on Snopes?

Mikkelson: Ugh, it’s awful. Remember going to a video arcade and playing “Whac-a-Mole” on one of those big machines?

That’s what it feels like when people sue over and over again. It’s like constantly having to beat back foes coming from different directions.

Each lawsuit requires time, attention, and help from lawyers. It’s tiring, and you just want the game to be over. And that’s exactly how we have felt since all this began.

The lawsuits like this one keep popping up, and Snopes has been forced to spend a small fortune on legal bills.

We’re very encouraged by this ruling, though.

Snopes Needs Your Help

Can we count on your continuing support?

We want what is best for Snopes, and that includes putting all these lawsuits behind us so that we can focus on our primary mission, fact-checking. Your generous support has allowed us to remain strong. Thanks to your contributions, we have sustained – and even grown – our fact-checking operations during this lawsuit journey.

How you can help:

Support our GoFundMe. This allows us to continue to fight those seeking to encumber our operations.

Defend Snopes with a one-time gift or recurring contribution. Your support can help sustain us through our ongoing battles.

Become a Founding Member. Join us as a member and get access to digital perks.

Thank you for standing by us. It’s not Game Over, because we refuse to give up – and this victory energizes us for whatever comes next.

Can we get back to fact-checking, please?

Truthfully yours,
Team Snopes