A blogger—and, really, the public at large—has the same protections for free speech in the United State as a traditional journalist and can only lose a defamation lawsuit on an issue of public concern if plaintiffs manage to prove negligence. In a ruling that may come as a surprise to many bloggers who probably didn’t even realize this was even a question, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Crystal Cox, a blogger who had lost a defamation lawsuit in 2011 over a blog post that accused an Oregon bankruptcy trustee and Obsidian Finance Group of fraud, reports the Associated Press. A jury had awarded the plaintiffs $2.5 million.
“To be precise, the Ninth Circuit concludes that all who speak to the public, whether or not they are members of the institutional press, are equally protected by the First Amendment,” writes Eugene Volokh, who represented Cox.
Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote that “because Cox’s blog post addressed a matter of public concern … the district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find Cox liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently.” The attorney for the plaintiffs highlighted that the appeals court said there was no question Cox’s blog post was false, notes Reuters. Still, because Cox was writing about an issue that was a matter of public concern, the plaintiffs had to show evidence that she acted negligently in order to win their lawsuit.