July 11, 2017

The owner of Snopes is locked in a legal battle with a small digital services company for control of the popular debunking site.

Proper Media — a company that owns, operates and represents web properties  — has issued a legal complaint and demand for a jury trial with Snopes owner Bardav, Inc. for what it calls “a lengthy scheme of concealment and subterfuge to gain control of the company and to drain its profits,” according to documents filed in the Superior Court of California in San Diego County.

The complaint, which was first reported by Courthouse News Service, seeks relief for six claims, including abuse of control and breach of contract.

The relationship between the two companies stretches back to the fall of 2015, when Bardav founder David Mikkelson inked a deal with Proper Media to manage all content and advertising accounts for Snopes, according to the complaint. Mikkelson terminated that agreement in spring 2017, according to the document.

“Our termination of the contract was fully in accord with the cancellation provisions of that contract,” he told Poynter in an email. “The contract was terminated because it was highly disadvantageous to us.”

A month after Proper Media filed its legal complaint, Bardav filed a cross-complaint in the Superior Court of California in San Diego County alleging four claims, including breach of contract.

“Proper Media failed to perform its contractual and legal obligations, and Bardav eventually terminated the contract in accordance with its terms,” the document reads. “Proper Media is now wrongfully withholding money owed to Bardav and effectively holding the Snopes.com website hostage by preventing Bardav from moving the website, advertising and other back-end functions to another service provider.”

Bardav signed over a share of Snopes’ revenue to Proper Media in exchange for web services such as management of its back-end advertising platform, according to the cross-complaint. Proper Media alleges in its original complaint, which was filed in early May, that it still has a valid, written contract that the company upheld until Bardav withheld the “accounts, tools and data” it needed to manage Snopes’ operations. The complaint alleges that Mikkelson himself breached the agreement by canceling it.

A representative from Proper Media, which also partners with Raw Story and The Daily Dot, and the company’s attorney, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Bardav’s lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The legal fracas between Bardav and Proper Media is complicated by the fact that Mikkelson’s ex-wife, Barbara, sold her 50 percent interest equity in the company to Proper Media in July 2016, according to the original complaint. The deal was structured as a sale to the media company’s five individual shareholders.

“Mikkelson was unhappy that Barbara maintained ownership of half of what he always considered to be his company after the divorce,” the complaint reads. “Thus, after Proper Media’s purchase of Barbara’s share, Mikkelson sought to finally gain control of Bardav by aligning and conspiring with (Vincent) Green.”

Green, who was among Proper Media’s five-person management staff, then “conspired” with Mikkelson to take control of Bardav by combining their interests in the company, according to the complaint. However, Bardav’s cross-complaint makes no mention of that alleged effort.

If the original complaint goes to a jury trial, it would be held in San Diego County, according to the document.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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