A federal appeals court has ruled that bloggers and the general public have the same protection of the First Amendment as journalists when sued for defamation. Should the issue be of public concern, the claimant has to prove negligence to win the case.
“It’s not a special right to the news media,” he said. “So it’s a good thing for bloggers and citizen journalists and others,” Gregg Leslie, of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, told AP.
The federal court’s ruling came after a new trial in a defamation case: an Oregon bankruptcy trustee was the plaintiff against a Montana blogger who wrote on the Internet that the trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case.
In 2011, Crystal Cox, a blogger from Montana was sued by attorney Kevin Padrick and his company, Obsidian Finance Group LLC, following her posts disclosing the alleged fraud, corruption, money-laundering and other criminal activities carried out by Obsidian. It should be noted that Padrick is not a public figure, so the facts exposed by Cox couldn’t inflict reputational damage on him.
Padrick and Obsidian won the case, and were granted $2.5 million.
Cox addressed the court of appeals, and was joined by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who found out about her case and offered her to represent her as an attorney in court.
“Because Cox’s blog post addressed a matter of public concern, even assuming that Gertz is limited to such speech, the district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find Cox liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently,” Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote for a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We hold that liability for a defamatory blog post involving a matter of public concern cannot be imposed without proof of fault and actual damages,” he added.