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Court Victory Gives Blogger Same Speech Protections As Traditional Press 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-that-traditional-journalism dept.
cold fjord writes "Reuters reports, '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."... Eugene Volokh, [a] Law professor who represented Cox, said Obsidian would now have to show that Cox had actual knowledge that her post was false when she published it. ... "In this day and age, with so much important stuff produced by people who are not professionals, it's harder than ever to decide who is a member of the institutional press."' Further details are available at Courthouse News Service."
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Court Victory Gives Blogger Same Speech Protections As Traditional Press

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:27PM (#46002151)

    And so a blogger could make accusations(false ones, in particular), with few consequences. A traditional journalist would be less likely to make false accusations in their line of work, because they could lose their job, and their employer could be taken to court.

    There is a difference between a personal blog, and an official publication. Does a blogger follow the same code of conduct/ethics that a traditional journalist must follow? No. Apples and oranges. So for a blogger to be entitled to the same free speech protection as a traditional journalist is wrong.

  • Re:yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:50PM (#46002275)

    I totally agree with you.

    I would argue the distinction has ALWAYS been unworkable its just that the internet has made it more obvious.

    Although I am sure corporate media organisations will disagree...but fuck them.

    And if this gets overturned or is not the case in other countries I would suggest that bloggers form a collective media organisation - Independent Media United. :)

    As a side bonus they could use it as a blogging community, buy hosting in bulk or whatever....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:50PM (#46002281)

    For a blogger to be entitled to the same free speech protection as a traditional journalist, then they must follow the same code of conduct/ethics as a traditional journalist.

    Until then, what the blogger writes is unregulated. Personal unregulated commentary are not the same as regulated publication, and therefore the same rules can't be applied to both.

  • Re:yes! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cold fjord (826450) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:00PM (#46002331)

    A great victory for the blogosphere

    Very much so. And I will also point out that Eugene Volokh [ucla.edu] is quite an interesting fellow with a great blog [volokh.com]. Lots of interesting commentary there. Legal Insurrection [legalinsurrection.com] is another great legal blog.

    Volokh worked for 12 years as a computer programmer. He graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in math-computer science at age 15, and has written many articles on computer software. Volokh was born in the USSR; his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was seven years old.

    Because child prodigy is no longer in Soviet Russia, free speech comes to you!

  • Re:yes! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by sycodon (149926) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:33PM (#46002501)

    Obsidian would now have to show that Cox had actual knowledge that her post was false when she published it

    Something about this just seems wrong. How may times have people had their lives ruined by false accusations in the Press only to have the accusations shown to be false. Richard Jewel [nytimes.com] is a good example. Seems to me that just being a notable person should not be a free pass for folks in the Press to ruin them, accidentally or otherwise.

  • by Noishkel (3464121) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:47PM (#46002547)

    I like your wording better than the headline. She did indeed have that right all the time and the court forced the rest of the government to recognize that fact.

    Well I made that quip because Feinstein purposed an amendment a while back that would strip certain journalistic protections under the first amendment UNLESS you worked for an established news organization. Which would give the federal government an avenue to attack anyone they didn't like the message of.

  • by hackus (159037) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @10:14PM (#46002651) Homepage

    isn't saying much these days.

    People in the free press are meeting with "accidents" and the "misfortune" if your article covers bankers, their cronies mischief in the NSA.

    -Hack

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @11:06PM (#46002861)

    These are the very reasons that the non-traditional press needs as much or more protection than the mundane, risk-averse mainstream media.

    I absolutely agree with you. However, I'm not sure that this particular blogger is the best representative of the "non-traditional press." From TFA:

    Cox's blogging activities have attracted their share of controversy. According to the court's opinion, Cox has a history of making allegations of fraud and other illegal activities "and seeking payoffs in exchange for retraction."

    Further, if you start doing any basic internet searches, you'll find all sorts of sordid claims about this blogger. If stuff on this link [popehat.com] is true, for example -- this blogger is the kind of person who registers the domain names of not only enemies, but the children of her enemies, and then posts horrible stuff about them (apparently sometimes made up), and then sends letters asking for money if they want it taken down.

    I have no idea if all of this is true, but it's clear from a number of stories -- both on blogs [wordpress.com] and in the "institutional press" that you accuse of not asking the hard questions, like the NY Times [nytimes.com] -- that the blogger at the center of this case is not just a "non-traditional press" representative or journalist. This appears to be someone who deliberately posts offensive material about people in order to extort money.

    So, is this really a victory for the "non-traditional press," or an invitation for a new kind of "shake-down" scheme where the mob comes after your business and acts for "protection" money? (I haven't been following this story, so I don't know the answer to this, but this is the kind of stuff I've found with a few quick searches, so it appears more complex than a simple "freedom of the press" victory.)

  • by Dan541 (1032000) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @11:44PM (#46003093) Homepage

    But you see, a blogger doesn't have a 'job' to lose(meaning, blogging is not their occupation), so what do they care if they write false accusations?

    I pride myself on the quality of my blog, and have the sources documentation and research to back up everything I write about. I also provide contact details so that I can retract any inaccuracies if they do appear, which fortunately has only ever happened once. I also have no editors to sabotage the final print before publishing meaning the end product is always what I intended. The same cannot be said for journalists.

  • Re:yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @12:13AM (#46003225)

    You are being very naive.

    Who defines "bad" and "good"?

    And why is i that a for profit corporate such as Fox News (to pick the most disgusting mainstream example I can think of) is given special privilege given their well documented bias and motivations....

    As I said...naive....

  • Re:yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by penix1 (722987) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @01:34AM (#46003475) Homepage

    Yes that Citizens United. How that decision became popularized as "corporations are evil because the system is corrupt" I can't figure. Protection of First Amendment freedoms is good, full stop.

    What makes it evil is it equated money with speech as well as said corporations are entitled to the same rights as people in a much stronger stance than any other decision. By allowing anonymous donations to political campaigns, there is no saying where the money actually came from be it local or from a foreign nation seeking to upset our political arena.

  • Re:yes! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 19, 2014 @10:44AM (#46005155)

    Corporations are not 'groups of people'. It's like saying that your plumber can use your house to post political ads in your front yard, because the contract you signed for his job makes you two a 'group of people'. This is the problem with that decision. It's a nice 1st amendment statement, but applied in a nonsensical way.

    You might say, "well, public entities sometimes incorporate exactly to promote a common position!". Yes. And those are entirely different categories of organizations.

That does not compute.

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