The case arose when Obsidian Finance Group and its principal, Kevin Padrick, sued blogger Crystal Cox for publishing posts accusing them of fraud, corruption, money laundering, and other illegal activities in connection with Padrick’s Chapter 11 trusteeship of a company called Summit Accommodations, Inc.
Obsidian is a major win for individuals who blog, share, tweet and otherwise publish their views online. While the Court initially framed the question as “What First Amendment protections are afforded a blogger sued for defamation?” (emphasis added), its decision applies the First Amendment protections it has bestowed on “institutional media” to all “individual speakers” or “other speakers.” The Court stated that the applicability of such protections does not turn on “whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story.” Id. at 1291. Under this reasoning, an individual blogger, website operator or social media users speaking publicly on the Internet enjoy the same First Amendment protections from defamation claims as traditional media publishers.