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Hulk Hogan has made a startling comeback.
In October, after Gawker posted a one-minute excerpt of a 30-minute sex tape, the former professional wrestler and reality star filed a $100 million lawsuit in federal court. Initially, he wasn’t very successful. A judge wouldn’t order Gawker to take down the tape off its website. Later, that judge pointed to the First Amendment, finding that Gawker’s publishing was “in conjunction with the news reporting function” and that the “factual finding supports a colorable fair use defense.”
But the situation has changed.
At a hearing yesterday in a Florida state court, a judge has granted Hogan’s request for a temporary restraining order, Hogan’s attorney Charles Harder tells The Hollywood Reporter.
As a result, as Hogan pursues claims that Gawker has violated his rights by posting the sex tape, all of Gawker’s affiliates will need to pull the popular video from its network. In addition, the judge has ordered to be delivered to Hogan’s attorneys all versions and copies of the full-length sex tape, and all excerpts, clips, photos and transcripts of it.
In his wrestling career, Hogan was known for incredible transformations. During matches, he’d be down on the mat, being severely beaten when suddenly, he’d experience an out-of-body experience and become almost invincible. Later in his wrestling career, he turned from “face” — good guy — to “heel” — bad guy — and back to face with incredible ease.
Right now, Hogan’s taste of success would rank up there among the surprising turnabouts he’s experienced. For the last decade, as celebrity sex tapes have proliferated on the Internet, stars have struggled with figuring out the right legal approach to ridding them from the digital universe. Often, the best strategy is to sue, and hope for a settlement. Not this time.
At the beginning of Hogan’s case against Gawker, he seemed primed for a bruising. His $100 million lawsuit contained allegations of invasion of privacy, publication of private facts, misappropriation of his publicity rights and infliction of emotional distress. Later, he added a copyright claim.
Gawker defended itself by pointing to its free speech rights.
The website didn’t just post his sex tape. The post also included an essay by A.J. Daulerio that opens by musing about how “we love to watch famous people have sex.” The writer discusses the enjoyment of seeing a sex tape of a “Real Life American Hero to many” and gives the play-by-play action of the tape, which he describes as a “goddamn masterpiece.”
The Gawker post was arguably a commentary on celebrity sex tapes — and those who like to watch celebrity sex tapes — and Florida federal Judge James Whittemore denied an injunction on grounds that what Gawker had published was newsworthy and that the Supreme Court had recognized that even minimal interference with the First Amendment freedom of the press causes an irreparable injury.
What changed was the judge.
Hogan dropped the federal lawsuit, and then re-filed in state court, joining Gawker into an lawsuit with Heather Clem, his partner in the video who is alleged to have had a role in leaking it. Gawker attempted to have the lawsuit removed back to federal court, but that was denied because it was determined that Hogan’s claims were not preempted by federal law and that the action against Gawker and Clem was “logically related.”
That brought the dispute to Judge Pamela Campbell of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County in Florida. On Wednesday, she held a hearing on Hogan’s new TRO motion. She granted it.
The lawsuit continues, but the video is going to need to be taken down. UPDATE: Gawker has agreed to take down the video, but is refusing to take down the post, and in a new post on its website, editor John Cook blasts the judge’s ruling as “grossly unconstitutional.” Read here.
E-mail: email@example.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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