SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is helping wrestler Hulk Hogan bankroll his lawsuit against Gawker Media, according to a report in Forbes.
Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, in March won a $140 million jury verdict against Gawker in a privacy lawsuit stemming from a sex tape Gawker had published.
Gawker, a New York-based website specializing in media and celebrity news, is appealing the verdict.
Forbes reported late Tuesday that Thiel, an early backer of Facebook (FB.O) and a co-founder of PayPal (PYPL.O), had played a lead role in financing the litigation. A spokesman for Thiel said Wednesday he would be in touch if Thiel decides to issue a statement on the matter.
In a statement Wednesday, Gawker acknowledged but did not confirm reports of Thiel’s involvement, and said it hoped the appeals court would decide in its favor.
Thiel, who is also a founder of a hedge fund and a venture capital firm and has been an outspoken voice on issues including education, is no stranger to Gawker. In 2007, it published an article entitled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”
Thiel kept mum publicly about his sexuality at the time, but has since said he is gay.
A longtime supporter of libertarian causes, Thiel recently said he was backing real estate financier Donald Trump in his bid for president.
“In my experience, the freedom to speak, in the view of most libertarians, is not unlimited,” said Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, in an email.
“If Peter Thiel is indeed backing the lawsuit, I assume that he thinks that disclosing a sex video without the participant’s permission is a violation of the participant’s rights – here, a right to privacy.”
Gawker is also facing lawsuits from Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who has made the controversial claim that he invented email, and journalist and writer Ashley Terrill.
Lawsuits backed by third parties are not unusual. In most cases, though, they are financial investments in which backers are motivated by the potential proceeds from a large damage award.
Secretive third-party financings of lawsuits can put media companies at a disadvantage during litigation, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, in an interview Tuesday.
“There might be circumstances in which knowing who your real adversary is, or the real party of interest who is making a suit against you may alter one’s perception of the case and strategies for defense,” Scheer said.
Reporting by Sarah McBride and Heather Somerville Editing by Jonathan Weber and Michael Perry