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Gossip-Dishing Gawker Values Its Own Privacy

MANHATTAN (CN) - Gawker's media empire has ginned up First Amendment battles around publishing celebrity sex tapes and outing private figures as gay, but it's now fighting to keep its own secrets from hitting the public docket.

On Monday, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to an order redacting their confidential information - but she warned that the right to public access might outweigh their privacy concerns later.

Ex-Gawker interns Aulistar Mark and Andrew Hudson sued their former employer for unfair labor practices two years ago in Manhattan Federal Court.

A little more than a year ago, Judge Alison Nathan approved a social-media campaign for former Gawker interns to join the class action, and the lawsuit has proceeded through the discovery phase since that time.

Gawker joined its interns in trying to redact names, usernames, passwords, online handles, email addresses, telephone numbers, bank account data and the company's internal websites from the docket.

In an email, Gawker's lawyer Mark Batten, a partner at Proskauer, emphasized: "The only information that Gawker asked to be redacted are personal (non-Gawker) email addresses, almost all of them belonging to third parties, and passwords."

"We have not asked that any substantive information be sealed, on any subject," he added.

Nathan agreed that these redactions balanced Gawker's right to protect its own personal and business information with the public right of access to court documents.

She warned, however, that she "may revisit this decision" should she determine later on that information currently being shielded is "subject to a heightened presumption of access."

Gawker has courted controversy and litigation over the personal information of celebrities and socialites that it considers newsworthy.

Most famously, it has been locked in a $100 million brawl with wrestler Hulk Hogan for leaking a sex tape with a woman who then his best friend's wife. It previously settled another lawsuit for publishing actor Eric Dane - best known as "McSteamy" from "Grey's Anatomy" and his wife frolicking naked with a former Miss Teen USA winner.

Gawker faced down legal attempts to restrain their publication of leaked drafts of Sarah Palin's book "America By Heart" and an advance copy of Quentin Tarantino's screenplay "The Hateful Eight."

In all of these cases, Gawker and its CEO Nick Denton proudly defended what its detractors called invasion of privacy as a boon for freedom of the press. But it reconsidered its absolutist ideals amid the public backlash against an article headlined, "Condé Nast's CFO Tried to Pay $2,500 for a Night with a Gay Porn Star."

Critics denounced the article as the "gay shaming" of a private figure, and Gawker's decision to pull the story led to high-profile resignations and soul-searching about its founding philosophies.

Meanwhile, the gay escort who was Gawker's source for its widely panned story sued the company for defamation this past week.

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