Gawker Media has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with Hulk Hogan, according to multiple reports, ending a years-long legal battle waged against it with the partial support of tech billionaire Peter Thiel.
As Gawker founder Nick Denton wrote in a blog post this week announcing the settlement: “The saga is over.”
The deal requires Gawker to pay Hogan (né Terry Bollea) $31 million, according to CNBC, NPR and The New York Times. The funds will be drawn from proceeds of Gawker’s earlier $135 million sale to Univision, which was forced because of the suit, according to the Times.
Hogan, a former professional wrestler and reality TV star, sued the media company in Florida in 2013 over its publication of commentary about and excerpts of a sex tape that featured Hogan and a friend’s former wife.
Hogan said the article and accompanying video clips violated his privacy, while Gawker argued that Hogan’s public statements and conduct made his sex life newsworthy.
As part of the agreement, the article about Hogan’s sex tape will be removed from the Internet. (Gawker.com, the flagship website of Gawker Media that posted the article, was shut down in August following the company’s sale of its remaining sites.)
In a statement to PEOPLE, Hogan’s attorney said, “As with any negotiation for resolution, all parties have agreed it is time to move on.”
He has previously described Hogan’s suit and resulting award as trespassing First Amendment protections of the press and free speech, with a “chilling” effect on tabloid news publishers. Gawker Media later waged something of its own public relations campaign, highlighting its sites’ often-lauded (if controversial and occasionally reviled) journalism.
On Wednesday, Gawker also settled two other suits — brought by Shiva Ayyadurai and Ashley Terrill, contesting Gawker articles about them — and will pay their plaintiffs $750,000 and $500,000, respectively, according to Gizmodo and the Times. The articles they contested will also be taken down, if they have not been removed already, per the settlement.
In his Wednesday blog post, Denton wrote that he remains confident an appeal would have been successful, but “all-out legal war with Thiel would have cost too much, and hurt too many people, and there was no end in sight.”
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Earlier this year it was revealed that Thiel, the founder of PayPal, had financed Hogan’s suit — and, reportedly, other suits — against Gawker as retaliation for its journalism, including a December 2007 article that Thiel said outed him as gay.
Thiel has accused Gawker of “[ruining] people’s lives for no reason,” according to the Times.
It remains unclear if Thiel also financed the suits of Ayyaudrai and Terrill, though the same lawyer represented them and Hogan.
Thiel previously “acknowledged he had subsidized other lawsuits against Gawker [besides Hogan’s] and would do so indefinitely,” according to NPR; and in a May interview with the Times, he confirmed he’d supported multiple lawsuits, saying, “It’s safe to say [Hogan] is not the only one.”
Speaking earlier this week, however, Thiel said he had only been involved in one lawsuit against a news organization: Hogan’s against Gawker. (Neither he nor Denton could immediately be reached for comment.)
“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel earlier told the Times. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
In a statement following the settlement this week, Thiel told the Times, “It is a great day for Terry Bollea and a great day for everyone’s right to privacy.”
But critics of the suit, including press advocates and Gawker employees past and present, felt otherwise.
“This entire sorry spectacle spells doom for anybody who aspired to do what we aspired to do,” former Gawker Media Executive Editor John Cook told the Times.