Free Speech Blogging

(Reuters) – A blogger is entitled to the same free speech protections as a traditional journalist and cannot be liable for defamation unless she acted negligently, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

Crystal Cox lost a defamation trial in 2011 over a blog post she wrote accusing a bankruptcy trustee and Obsidian Finance Group of tax fraud. A lower court judge had found that Obsidian did not have to prove that Cox acted negligently because Cox failed to submit evidence of her status as a journalist.

But in the ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Cox deserved a new trial, regardless of the fact that she is not a traditional reporter.

“As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable,” 9th Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

Expect bloviating all week from the usual suspects on this one, who should keep in mind the judge’s explicit caveat :…unless she acted negligently.” Kansas City’s Most Sued Blogger would do well to stay within those bounds. Defamation is not free speech; usually it’s a matter of ego and poor judgement, with a touch of illiteracy thrown in.

SCOTUS will ultimately settle the matter; whether Obsidian or another individual/company puts it on the Supreme’s docket is moot. 1

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  1. Though sooner is always better than later.

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