Fact-checking website Snopes has reached out to its community for help to fund a legal battle against its new shareholders from Proper Media. “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 and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com website hostage,” it said.
Snopes said the vendor will not hand over control of the site’s hosting, and is placing its own ads on the site and withholding advertising revenue. According to Snopes’ GoFundMe page, it has raised over £600,000 in two days. Snopes founder David Mikkelson told Ars Technica that Proper Media had effectively held the site hostage for months.
Only after it launched its fundraising campaign did Proper Media release WordPress content, themes, templates, and the database to Mikkelson.
According to Proper Media, however, the disagreement between it and Mikkelson’s company Bardav is more complex. Snopes was founded in 1994, initially run by David and his wife Barbara. They each held 50% of the company.
In 2015, Barbara and David divorced. As part of their settlement, they agreed to each retain half of Bardav with a 10-day right of first refusal should the other partner wish to sell their stake. Barbara found buyers in five Proper Media staff members, the company Bardav contracted to help Snopes with web development, hosting, and advertising.
Mikkelson reportedly did not block the sale, but later decided to cancel the services it was receiving from Proper Media. Ultimately, the case will come down to whether Mikkelson, as 50% owner, is allowed to cancel the contract with Proper Media without board approval. A lawyer for 20%-owner Drew Schoentrup argues that Mikkelson was not allowed to.
Proper Media’s lawsuit against Bardav also alleges that Mikkelson used company money to fund expensive non-work items, including the legal fees for his divorce and the honeymoon he went on with new wife Alyssa Young.