The fact-checking website Snopes.com marks a grim anniversary on July 24, 2021 – four years of fighting a series of hostile civil lawsuits filed by a former vendor. The lawsuits have required Snopes Media Group and its employees to retain attorneys to defend their interests, incurring costly legal fees to the tune of 20%-30% of the small, independent company’s revenues each year. These fees are an immense expense that has threatened the survival of Snopes.
To mark this four-year anniversary, the Snopes team has launched snopes.com/sos – a new fund-raising campaign that will help keep readers informed on litigation updates. Contributions have been a vital lifeline for Snopes, helping it to survive the legal onslaught and continue its fact-checking.
The lawsuits began with a vendor’s vocal protest over Snopes’ decision to lawfully cancel its contract and became entangled with issues of shareholder ownership, control of the privately held media company, and even the exercise of First Amendment rights by Snopes employees. The case involves duplicative lawsuits in multiple venues: Superior Court of California; State of California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District; and U.S. District Court.
Recent court decisions in 2021 have been strongly in favor of Snopes and its founder and Chief Executive Officer, David Mikkelson, and have removed an obstacle to concluding the main lawsuit. Now, Snopes must prepare for the staggering cost of legal representation in the upcoming trial.
“Snopes is struggling, but we will never give up on our fact-checking mission. Over the last four years, when the fight against misinformation has been more vital than ever, Snopes’ mission has been severely compromised by corporate bullies who refused to accept that they lost a contract,” Mikkelson said. “I would say the four-year-long string of court rulings in our favor demonstrates which side is in the right here. Fortunately, our loyal supporters refused to give up on us and have helped us to hold on despite the onslaught of repeated, baseless lawsuits.”
Snopes’ legal adversary is Proper Media, a company that once had a web development and advertising management contract with Snopes, along with various individual owners of Proper Media. (Proper Media was recently acquired by Sovrn Holdings, Inc.)
In 2017, Snopes lawfully ended its contract with Proper Media. The owners of Proper Media then tried, unsuccessfully, to compel Snopes to do business with their company once again or, failing that, to force the dissolution of Snopes.
Adding to the complexity, some of the owners of Proper Media acquired shares of Snopes. This allowed them to sit on the Snopes Board of Directors at the same time they were pressing lawsuits against Snopes.
The epic legal fight came to a head in mid-2017 with Proper Media blocking Snopes’ access to its own website and email accounts and refusing to turn over advertising revenues it was collecting on behalf of Snopes. It took months, but Snopes was granted a court order allowing it to regain possession of its website and email accounts, along with some of the withheld advertising funds.
On July 24, 2017, Snopes launched a GoFundMe campaign to defend the company’s interests. The grassroots campaign sparked worldwide headlines, with supporters rallying behind the internet’s first fact-checking website. More than 44,400 people have donated to Snopes’ legal defense fund – raising $1.7 million through mostly small, individual contributions over four years.
Courts have criticized the adverse litigants’ conduct. Proper Media and its owners have been described by one judge as having “overtly hostile interests” to Snopes, have been accused by another judge of “attempting to circumvent” a court’s ruling, and have been deemed by a third judge to have engaged in an “illegal contract” to claim ownership rights to Snopes shares.
The most recent activity in the case, on June 4, 2021, was a significant win for Mikkelson. A California Court of Appeal affirmed a 2019 anti-SLAPP ruling that allowed Snopes to advance Mikkelson’s legal fees as part of an exercise of his First Amendment rights. The main court case had been placed on hold during the appeal of the anti-SLAPP ruling. Now, with that obstacle removed, the main court case can proceed.
Another positive development in the case took place April 2, 2021 in the Superior Court of California – County of San Diego, regarding the division of shares of Snopes Media Group. The judge ruled in favor of Mikkelson and agreed that a plaintiff was “attempting to circumvent” a prior court ruling that had already decided the matter.
About Snopes Media Group
Snopes Media Group is the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource. When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust, Snopes’ fact-checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. We always link to and document our sources so readers are empowered to do independent research and make up their own minds.
Snopes got its start in 1994, investigating urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore. Founder David Mikkelson, later joined by his wife, was publishing online before most people were connected to the internet. As demand for reliable fact checks grew, so did Snopes. Now it’s the oldest and largest fact-checking site online, widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and readers as an invaluable research companion.
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