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We have outstanding news regarding the lawsuit. We previously informed you of Snopes’ successful anti-SLAPP effort, now we have more results to share.
First, for those that haven’t been watching closely, a recap:
In 2017 we launched a GoFundMe campaign after Proper Media, a web services vendor with whom we had previously worked — as stated in this complaint — “effectively held the Snopes.com website hostage” and “withheld all advertising revenues for months until the Court intervened,” endangering Snopes’ very existence.
In the slow-moving legal battle since then, Proper Media and its principal owners, Drew Schoentrup and Chris Richmond, have sued us for exercising our right not to do business with them anymore, attempted to prevent Snopes from advancing the legal fees of the employees they’re suing, and tried bringing defamation claims to interfere with our efforts to raise money for defending ourselves in said lawsuit.
As part of our defense, Snopes and our CEO David Mikkelson filed separate anti-SLAPP motions against Proper Media, Richmond, and Schoentrup. Those motions were heard in August 2019, and they were both granted in their entirety, with the court striking claims related to defamation and the advancement of legal fees against both Snopes and Mr. Mikkelson.
In a separate ruling, the court also struck additional claims Schoentrup and Richmond had attempted to bring against Mr. Mikkelson, on the grounds that Schoentrup and Richmond "have hostile interests.”
This is a big win — and it would not have been possible without our supporters’ help. However, the case is not closed.
We are still awaiting a trial date, when we plan to disprove false claims brought against us, win damages, and defray as much of our legal costs as we can.
If you have not already, please consider supporting Snopes in this battle. Contributions in any amount make a difference.
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Almost two months ago we informed you of a special legal motion known as “anti-SLAPP,” which Snopes Media Group (Snopes) had filed against Proper Media and its principals, Chris Richmond and Drew Schoentrup. Today, we are ecstatic to report that our motion was successful.
A “SLAPP” lawsuit, which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is a retaliatory lawsuit brought to intimidate or silence critics of business — typically by bleeding those critics dry with litigation costs and harassing them with depositions and document demands. News organizations and journalists are often the target of SLAPP lawsuits brought by the subjects of their reporting.
The principals of Proper Media — one of whom, ironically, is a member of Snopes’ board of directors — attempted to bring defamation claims against Snopes for statements the company published about them and Proper Media in conjunction with our hugely successful GoFundMe campaign. In response, Snopes used California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which protects news organizations and others from being targeted by such litigation by providing a quick and inexpensive mechanism to combat it.
Snopes filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Proper Media, Schoentrup, and Richmond, and as expected, the Snopes fact-checkers prevailed. The court held that the statements in question were true, were not defamatory, and/or were published outside the one-year statute of limitations, and therefore struck down the claims brought against Snopes based on those allegedly defamatory statements.
Does this mean the litigation is over? No. It is ongoing, and we still desperately need your support. However, this win resulted in a number of claims against Snopes being dismissed, as well as the deletion of huge chunks of the opposition’s complaint — recisions worthy of the most ruthless of editors.
We will continue to keep you informed with updates as the case progresses.
Enough is enough.
After more than two years and multiple actions before the court, we have filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Proper Media and its principals, Chris Richmond and Drew Schoentrup.
As you can read in our special motion, we contend the opposition has asserted "claims against Snopes and its CEO based on truthful statements” made on our GoFundMe page and have filed "claims and allegations that are designed to chill Snopes' efforts to speak publicly about this case, stop Snopes from raising money to support itself, and otherwise cut off funding for Snopes and its employees."
Actions like these are why anti-SLAPP statutes exist.
We will not stand by and allow baseless claims and scorched-earth litigation tactics to destroy our newsroom and trample our First Amendment rights to free speech, to freedom of the press, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
And we will never stop fighting for the truth.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Join more than 33,000 truth-seekers who have contributed to this fundraiser to see us through this fight. If you have already given (Thank you!), share this campaign with your friends and encourage them to #FightForFacts. We need their support now more than ever.
Keep Up with the Case
If you would like to keep up with the case, you can view the public records by visiting the San Diego’s registrar of actions using court number 37, year 2017, and case number 00016311. For your convenience, we have summarized notable updates below and have provided a link to our latest cross-complaint against Proper Media, Publife, Drew Schoentrup, Chris Richmond, and Tyler Dunn, which includes the following causes of action (PDF):
- Breach of Contract
- Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
- Violation of the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act
- Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage
- Violation of Penal Code § 496
- Breach of Fiduciary Duty
- Aiding and Abetting
- Fraudulent Conveyance
- Violations of California Business & Professions Code Sections 17200 et seq.
Snopes Media Group’s (SMG) executive management team has also individually filed cross-complaints against Proper Media and its principals. David Mikkelson’s latest complaint can be viewed here , and Vinny Green and Ryan Miller’s latest complaint can be viewed here .
The following are among the material matters that have occurred or been decided in the case thus far, with the most recent updates appearing first. These victories would not have been possible without your support.
On 5 June 2019, SMG and David Mikkelson filed special motions in San Diego Superior Court, invoking California's anti-SLAPP statute in asking the court to uphold our constitutional right to free speech by striking defamation claims and allegations made by Proper Media and its principals over Snopes' highly successful GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. (PDF)
On 20 May 2019, the Superior Court denied Drew Schoentrup and Christopher Richmond’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have compelled SMG to stop advancing the legal fees of Snopes employees involved in this litigation. (PDF)
On 8 May 2019 the Superior Court granted David Mikkelson's Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that a contract between Drew Schoentrup/Chris Richmond and a former SMG co-owner was unlawful, thus granting a request for a judicial declaration that Drew Schoentrup/Chris Richmond do not have any rights to a disputed percentage of SMG shares. (PDF)
On 14 January 2019, the opposition's cause of action seeking an involuntary dissolution of SMG was dismissed. (PDF)
On 5 June 2018, the Superior Court granted SMG’s application for an Order to Show Cause regarding contempt against Drew Schoentrup and Proper Media over their continued failure to comply with the 22 August 2017 preliminary injunction granted in favor of SMG, as described below. (PDF)
On 26 April 2018, SMG filed an ex parte application for an order to show cause regarding contempt against Drew Schoentrup and Proper Media. (PDF)
On 22 February 2018, the Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of Snopes CEO David Mikkelson, dismissing all causes of action brought against him by Proper Media. (PDF)
On 15 February 2018, the Superior Court ruled that Proper Media is not an SMG shareholder, and upheld the appointment of Brad Westbrook to SMG’s board of directors. (PDF)
On 18 October 2017, we successfully migrated Snopes.com to a new hosting provider and regained control of our advertising revenue stream.
On 22 August 2017, the Superior Court granted our request for a preliminary injunction against Proper Media and its principals ordering Proper Media to transfer the hosting of the Snopes.com website back to SMG’s control and to cease withholding funds from SMG. On the same day, the court denied Proper Media’s request for an order that would have forced SMG to continue a business relationship with Proper Media, and denied Proper Media's request to remove David Mikkelson from SMG’s board of directors. (PDF)
On 12 July 2017, the Superior Court granted our request for a Temporary Restraining Order in favor of SMG and against Proper Media. (PDF)
These updates are made as of 4 June 2019, and are intended to reflect the status of our ongoing litigation and fundraising efforts as of that date alone.
As promised, here is an update on our legal battle with Proper Media and its principals, Chris Richmond and Drew Schoentrup — a battle that has severely hindered the operations of Snopes.com for over two years now and still very much poses an existential threat to our fact-checking efforts.
Legal expenses consumed a substantial portion of Snopes’ entire budget in 2018, and those expenses will grow as we head to trial later this year. Recently, the opposition has even expanded their litigation by suing us over this very GoFundMe campaign. It is heartbreaking to think how much more Snopes could have accomplished over the last two years if we had not been forced to exhaust so much of our resources in court.
Fortunately, with your help we have prevailed in many critical aspects of this case that have been adjudicated so far, and we remain very optimistic of an overall victory. But the fight isn’t over yet — we need to obtain a final verdict and recoup damages suffered.
The future of Snopes depends on our ability to continue fighting, and for that we must turn to you once again. Please help us reach our goal so we can continue to seek justice in court.
The funds raised from this effort will be used to pay operating expenses so we can continue our mission without disruption, and to cover legal fees for both Snopes Media Group and Snopes employees.
Thank you for your continued support,
Last July we informed you all about our difficulties with a vendor (Proper Media) who had been contracted to provide certain services for Snopes.com but would not acknowledge the lawful termination of that contract by us. The vendor would not relinquish the site’s hosting to our control and continued to insert their own advertisements on the site, withholding from us all the advertising revenue so generated.
Those actions put us in a perilous situation: We were deprived of operating funds for months on end, and we had to spend what reserves we had on legal fees in order to regain control of our site and reclaim the revenues that were withheld from us. We launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to fund our legal efforts, and more than 25,000 of you graciously contributed to that campaign and enabled us to continue our work during a difficult time.
We'd now like to provide you with an update on what your donations have enabled us to accomplish on the legal front:
On 12 July 2017, the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, granted our request for a Temporary Restraining Order in favor of Bardav, Inc. (Snopes.com's parent corporation) and against Proper Media. As a result, Proper Media released $100,000 in revenue procured from the placement of advertisement on the Snopes.com website that they had been withholding. The court’s order provided much-needed funds that allowed Snopes.com to continue operating without having to lay off any staff.
On 22 August 2017, the Superior Court granted our request for a Preliminary Injunction against Proper Media and its principals. The injunction required Proper Media to transfer hosting of the Snopes.com web site back to our control and to cease withholding from us revenues procured from the placement of advertisements on the Snopes.com website. On the same day that our motion for preliminary injunction was granted, the court denied Proper Media’s request for an order that would have forced Bardav to continue a business relationship with Proper Media, and denied Proper Media's request to remove David Mikkelson from Bardav's board of directors.
On 18 October 2017, we successfully migrated Snopes.com to a new hosting provider and regained control of our advertising revenue stream.
On 15 February 2018, the Superior Court ruled that Proper Media is not a Bardav shareholder, and upheld the appointment of Brad Westbrook to Bardav's board of directors.
On 22 February 2018, the Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of David Mikkelson dismissing all causes of action brought against him by Proper Media.
Despite these rulings in our favor, we still face significant challenges. As our efforts continue, so does our need for funding to sustain our ongoing operations, cover our legal fees, and help us expand to stem the rising tide of misinformation. In response to our GoFundMe campaign, many of you asked how you might support us on an ongoing basis. This campaign is the best way to do that right now.
Our need for support has not abated (particularly as our legal fees have exhausted all previously raised funds), so we are raising the cap on this campaign and keeping it active as our case proceeds through the legal system. If you are able to continue helping us with our important work, thank you, and we will continue to provide periodic updates.
We cannot express the extent to which we are gratified and humbled at how so many of you graciously contributed to our campaign and enabled us to continue our work during this difficult time. We received donations not only from all 50 states, but from 69 different countries around the world as well. We are truly amazed that our mission and our story have achieved such a wide audience, and that they have brought together so many people.
The GoFundMe team is in the process of releasing the donations directly to the company, where our controller will ensure the funds are allocated appropriately and our commitment to our donors is maintained.
To demonstrate our everlasting gratitude to all of you, our team has put together a short video to thank you for your support and attest to the importance of what you have helped us accomplish.
The groundswell of support from all corners of the internet in response to our #SaveSnopes campaign has prompted some reasonable questions about our plans for the money we’ve received as well as the legal dispute precipitating our plea, so we thought we would do what we do best and offer up some information about it.
Read the FAQ here.
SNOPES.COM COMMUNITY: WE NEED YOUR HELP
Snopes.com in Danger of Shuttering
Snopes.com, which began as a small one-person effort in 1994 and has since become one of the Internet’s oldest and most popular fact-checking sites, is in danger of closing its doors. So, for the first time in our history, we are turning to you, our readership, for help.
Since our inception, we have always been a self-sustaining site that provides a free service to the online world: we've had no sponsors, no outside investors or funding, and no source of revenue other than that provided by online advertising. Unfortunately, we have been cut off from our historic source of advertising income.
We had previously contracted with an outside vendor to provide certain services for Snopes.com. That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage. Although we maintain editorial control (for now), the vendor will not relinquish the site’s hosting to our control, so we cannot modify the site, develop it, or — most crucially — place advertising on it. The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us.
Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile.
As misinformation has increasingly threatened democracies around the world (including our own), Snopes.com has stood in the forefront of fighting for truth and dispelling misinformation online. It is vital that these efforts continue, so we are asking the Snopes.com community to donate what they can. (Our suggested donation is $10, but if you can give more please consider doing so — every little bit helps.)
We need our community now more than ever, as it is only through your support that Snopes.com can remain the community and resource we all know and love.
Please note that any amounts sent to Snopes.com through gofundme.com or otherwise are purely a donation, and this is not an offer to purchase securities or any other interest in Snopes.com (or its parent company). All donations are non-refundable, and you will own no equity, debt, or other interest in Snopes.com (or its parent company) as a result of your donation. Since Snopes.com (and its parent company) is not a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, donations are not tax-deductible as a charitable contribution but will be allocated in their entirety to operating expenses, legal fees, and the continuation of our overall mission to fight misinformation.