Monday, December 22, 2014

"Bloggers get the same libel protection as traditional journalists, federal court rules"

"What’s the difference between a blogger and a journalist? Congress is still debating that question, but today a federal appeals court ruled that there’s no difference when it comes to defamation.

In 2011, blogger Crystal Cox lost a trial when an Oregon judge denied her a First Amendment protection traditionally reserved for the press. She claimed that Obsidian Finance Group was guilty of tax fraud — a statement with no basis in fact — and a jury awarded Obsidian $2.5 million in damages. Normally, Obsidan would have had to prove that Cox was negligent to recover some of that money, and that she acted with “actual malice” to get the rest. However, those rules came from Supreme Court cases that only applied to journalists — cases that predated blogging — and the Oregon judge decided she didn’t have the credentials of a journalist.

Today, however, the appeals court decided it doesn’t matter whether Cox is part of the traditional press. Wrote Judge Marco Hernandez:

“The protections of the First Amendment do 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. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable.”

“In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue — not the identity of the speaker — provide the First Amendment touchstones,” added the judge.