Appeals Court Rules Bloggers have Same First Amendment Rights as Traditional Media

Crystal Cox

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that bloggers are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as traditional journalists in cases of alleged defamation.

In Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox (pdf), the appellate justices overturned a lower court decision that found blogger Crystal Cox liable for her blog posts criticizing Obsidian Finance Group, a bankruptcy trustee.

The panel wrote: “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: ‘With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media…the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.’ Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 352. 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,” the court added.

The justices determined that Cox’s blog post “addressed a matter of public concern, and the district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find the blogger liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently.”

The case will now return to district court, where a new trial will commence, per the ruling.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

To Learn More:

California Court Rules Blogger Has Same First Amendment Protections as Traditional Media (by Alexander B. Howard, E Pluribus Unum)

Bloggers = Media for First Amendment Libel Law Purposes (by Eugene Volokh, Volokh Conspiracy)

Obsidian Finance Group v. Crystal Cox (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)

Senate Narrows Definition of “Journalist” for Proposed Shield Law (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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