Supreme Court Sets Precedent Protecting Blogger with Same Freedom of Speech Rights as Traditional Press

In what amounts to a victory for bloggers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Crystal Cox, a blogger, is protected by the same free speech rights as a traditional journalist and therefore can't be held liable for defamation unless it's proven that she acted negligently. The ruling came after Cox lost a defamation trial in 2011 over a blog post accusing a bankruptcy trustee and Obsidian Finance Group of tax fraud.

At the time, the lower court ruled that Obsidian didn't need to prove that Cox acted negligently since Cox did not submit evidence proving her status as a journalist. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court decided differently based a precedent already set by the Supreme Court.

Image Source: Flickr (antigone78)

"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 as part of a unanimous three-judge panel.

Obsidian's attorney, Steven Wilker, noted that the 9th Circuit didn't dispute that Cox's blog post was false. According to Wilker, Cox made "defamatory statements" that caused his clients "substantial damage." In an email to Reuters, he added that he and his legal team are evaluating their options following the court's decision.

Cox's case is controversial not only because it deals with free speech and bloggers, but also because she has a history of making allegations of illegal activities "and seeking payoffs in exchange for retraction," Reuters quotes the court as saying.

Thumbnail Image Source: Flickr (Sue Richards)