It's hard to think of a case with details more spectacular: A videotape featuring wrestling star Hulk Hogan having sex in a canopy bed with the young wife of a good friend -- a man whose legal name is Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, sued the website that published portions of the tape, the New York-based gossip site Gawker.com. A Florida jury deliberated just six hours before ruling in Bollea's favor and awarding him $115 million in damages.

The case also raises crucial issues about privacy in the age of Internet phenomena such as revenge porn.

"People are thinking a little bit more about the concept of what is newsworthy, because what's changed is the concept of who a public figure is," said Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and the legislative and tech policy director of the nonprofit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

"Society can be contemptuous toward a celebrity because they're a celebrity, and people think that a celebrity can deal with this," Franks said.

The verdict's legal scope is, for now, limited. Friday's decision emerged from a jury trial in a district court, which means it doesn't set precedent.


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The Hulk Hogan verdict has emboldened privacy advocates, who say First Amendment rights don't trump an individual's right to privacy -- no matter how famous the person. Unlike other celebrity-vs.-media legal battles, the issue here was privacy, not whether published material was defamatory or false.

Howard Weitzman, a Santa Monica-based attorney who represents celebrity clients such as pop star Justin Bieber -- nude photos of him were recently leaked online -- said the Hogan case sends an important message.

"I believe there is a growing dislike of reckless conduct in this age of digital distribution," he said in an email. "When someone's privacy is clearly violated, the 'victim' is entitled to some safeguards. In my opinion, such distributors have a duty to act in a decent and responsible manner rather than rushing to satiate perceived prurient interests."

In the Internet age, it's a concept that is being put to the test as nude photos and old sex videos pop up online, distributed by vindictive ex-lovers or hackers .

After a photo or a video appears on the Internet, the Web's cut-and-paste powers of regeneration make it virtually impossible to take down -- even if an individual is armed with a pile of injunctions.

It's an issue that isn't just affecting celebrities, but also private citizens, who have to contend with the phenomenon of revenge porn.

"The term we prefer is 'nonconsensual pornography,'" Franks said. "It's not about the motives of the person who posted it. It's sexually explicit material distributed without consent."

Though celebrity sex tapes back in the days of Rob Lowe and Pamela Anderson may have been greeted with some public amusement, these days they are just as likely to raise public anger. When nude images of Jennifer Lawrence were published, some writers described it as a "sexual assault" and another example of the harassment of women. Lawrence called it a "sexual violation."

All of this may explain why the jury in Florida was so willing to award Hogan such an extraordinary sum -- $15 million more in damages than he was seeking.