Ninth Circuit extends First Amendment protection to bloggers
by Jeffrey Lewis
Today the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox (9th Cir. Jan. 17, 2014). The decision extended to bloggers the same First Amendment protections that are afforded to traditional journalists. From the opinion:
This case requires us to address a question of first impression: What First Amendment protections are afforded a blogger sued for defamation? 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.
The Ninth Circuit found that attempts to distinguish between bloggers and traditional media outlets for purposes of defamation liability were “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
This case represents an important expansion of protection for persons who use the internet to communicate, report news and express opinions. Defamation liability will not be imposed absent some showing of intent and actual damages, the same legal standards governing defamation actions against traditional journalists.