A blogger is entitled to the same protections for free speech as a traditional journalist, and cannot be charged with defamation unless proven negligent, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday. The ruling came in Crystal Cox's case, a blogger who had lost a defamation lawsuit in 2011 over a blog post in which she accused an Oregon bankruptcy trustee and Obsidian Finance Group of tax fraud.
Under US law, professional journalists are entitled to the First Amendment Protection which makes it mandatory for the accuser to prove that the accused journalist deliberately printed something they knew was false. In Cox's case, the blogger wasn't entitled to this protection as she wasn't a professional journalist.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, however, rejected the court's interpretation, and pointed out that the First Amendment Protection applies to anyone who raises a matter of public concern. According to the court, the allegations made by Cox were indeed a matter of public concern.
Although the appeals court concluded that there was no question Cox’s blog post was false, it said that "the district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find Cox liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently".
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA School of Law professor who represented Cox, said that the ruling is particularly important in today's internet era when much of the important content is being produced by people who are not professional journalists.