What Does the Hulk Hogan Verdict Mean?

Case will need to be upheld to set precedent, but privacy advocates could gain momentum
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2016 10:32 AM CDT
Updated Mar 20, 2016 11:33 AM CDT
What Does the Hulk Hogan Verdict Mean?
Hulk Hogan walks out of the courthouse on March 18, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Bollea was awarded $115 million in damages in his lawsuit against Gawker on Friday.   (Eve Edelheit/The Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Hulk Hogan on Friday won an eye-popping $115 million from Gawker Media for publishing a sex tape—more than he sought and what Ars Technica called a potentially "life-threatening event" for Gawker—but what are the real implications for celebrity privacy and for media freedom? The short answer, legally speaking, is not much, reports the New York Times—yet. A trial verdict in a lower court does not set precedent, but Gawker plans to appeal, and precedent could be set if the verdict is upheld in higher courts—which tend to give more weight to First Amendment than do lower courts, notes the Times. "I think the damages are crazy, but I just don’t see this as a terrible blow to the First Amendment," a media law expert says.

"This was an unusual and extremely private matter," he continues, in that Hogan was filmed without his knowledge and the video published without his consent; the verdict "could be bad for the future of sex tapes, but I’m not sure it would be a threat to anything else." Still, notes the Los Angeles Times, the case could be a shot in the arm for privacy advocates, and what one First Amendment professor thinks could be "a slight tilting back toward privacy ... There are those who say that if privacy means anything, it means a sex tape, aired on the Internet for millions to gawk at." And though the Gawker case could be what the New York Times calls "an outlier," in that most traditional media wouldn't have published the tape in the first place, a law professor tells the LA Times: "You should be able to control who sees you naked." (Read more Hulk Hogan stories.)

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