Friday, April 25, 2014

Ninth Circuit Grants First Amendment Protection to Bloggers

Online news analysis and reporting through blogs, tweets, or social media posts has experienced a rapid growth in popularity, but remains distinguished from traditional media outlets such as newspapers or TV networks.  
The gap is closing, however, and online publishers took another step towards legitimacy this week when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that bloggers are afforded the same protection from defamation lawsuits as institutional media outlets enjoy.
Ninth Circuit Grants First Amendment Protection to Bloggers
In Obsidian Finance Group v Cox, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit seems to have settled the question of blogger liability for defamation by offering internet writers the same protections historically afforded to traditional Media.  
Obsidian emerged as a case between Obsidian Finance Group and blogger Crystal Cox over blog posts published by Cox accusing Obsidian of fraud, money laundering, and other financial crimes when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Although most of the statements made by Cox were constitutionally protected as opinion, one statement accusing Obsidian of tax fraud resulted in a $2.5 million judgment against Cox for defamation.
The judgment was possible because the trial court determined that Ms. Cox failed to “submit evidence suggestive of her status of a journalist,” which means she was not provided the same protection against libel that newspapers and other traditional media sources have. 
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit disagreed, and determined that the First Amendment protections offered to institutional media apply also to individual speakers who assert their statements via non-traditional media outlets such as blog posts.  
Holding that the identity of the speaker was not important in defamation cases, the Ninth Circuit rejected the notion that institutional press has First Amendment protection that individual speakers, such as bloggers, do not."
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