When a sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee made its way into the world - first on VHS bootlegs, before later streaming online - the public became obsessed with the celebrity couple and their intimate moments. Few people ever took the time to consider whether the tape had been legally released.

More than two decades later - and with a new Hulu series Pam & Tommy based on the events - the story is well-known: In 1995, Rand Gauthier, a disgruntled electrician who had been fired by the couple, stole their safe, which held the homemade sex tape (along with many other priceless items). The first time he watched it, he knew he’d discovered something valuable.

“We put it in and see what it is, and of course, cha-ching. The dollar signs fly before our eyes,” Gauthier remarked to Rolling Stone in 2014. “But we’re going, This is the kind of thing people will get killed over.”

Dollars did pour in, but not for Gauthier or his cohort, porn producer Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley. The pair, which had been distributing the tape through an amateurish mail-order operation, was quickly overrun by copycats selling pirated versions of the same tape.

One of those tapes ended up with 25-year-old Seth Warshavsky, an early purveyor of internet porn (played by Fred Hechinger in Pam & Tommy). He announced that he would stream the video on a loop at his website Club Love, an act he’d later admit was meant to be a publicity stunt. However, when Warshavsky wasn’t met with an anticipated injunction, he went forward with the stream.

The response was so overwhelming that Warshavsky took things a step further. While simply appearing in the sex tape didn’t necessarily give Anderson and Lee copyright control, the fact that the couple filmed the video unquestionably did. Knowing this, Warshavsky offered to buy ownership of the tape from them.

In Pam & Tommy, the couple debates whether to sign Warshavsky’s offer. Anderson doesn’t care about the money and is far more concerned with controlling the tape’s distribution. Lee is also trepidatious, but eventually relents and signs.

In real life, the couple was exhausted from fighting court case after court case to no avail and was anxious to put the whole thing behind them. They quickly signed the agreement thinking it would lead to some closure and made sure the deal with Warshavsky would limit the tape’s distribution to the internet only - or so they thought. Just as it's portrayed in Pam & Tommy, the couple received a rude awakening when they found out how much they’d signed away.

“I remember negotiating and thinking, ‘There is no way they’ll ever sign this,'” Warshavsky’s lawyer, Derek Newman, who purposely made the agreement as broad as possible, later recalled.

With the agreement in place, Club Love became inundated with subscribers looking to watch the video. But the bigger issue, at least in the eyes of Anderson and Lee, was that Warshavsky was also able to arrange an agreement with Vivid Entertainment, which distributed the tape to adult video stores across the world.

Between physical and streaming sales in the early '00s, it’s estimated that the tape generated more than $100 million in profits - and that’s without counting the illegitimate pirated sales. Exactly how much Anderson and Lee made from their agreement is unknown.

Before their arrangement, Warshavsky offered the couple $250,000 to settle their claims against him, a number they scoffed at. “He was offering us beer money,” Lee wrote in his autobiography Tommyland.

The couple continued to insist that their agreement was meant to cover the release online only - a medium that, at the time, was in its early years. In 2002, a federal judge awarded Anderson and Lee $740,000 each in a default judgment against Warshavsky, who, by this point, had moved to Bangkok to avoid FBI and Department of Justice investigations into his business practices. Despite the judgment, the former husband and wife never saw any money.

Some have suggested that the couple had some kind of private deal with Warshavsky in which they received a percentage of the tape’s profits. Anderson and Lee have denied such claims for more than two decades, insisting they never received a financial windfall despite the video’s popularity.

"I made not one dollar," Anderson declared during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live in 2015. "It was stolen property. We made a deal to stop all the shenanigans,” she said at the time. “I was seven months pregnant with Dylan and thinking it was affecting the pregnancy with the stress and said, ‘I’m not going to court anymore. I’m not being deposed anymore by these horny, weird lawyer men. I don’t want to talk about my vagina anymore or my public sex — anything.”

“I wish I could say we had the last laugh and financed our kids’ future off someone trying to rob us,” Lee wrote in Tommyland, “but the truth is, I can’t.”

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