A recent legal opinion has some concerned about just how broad free speech rights may be for bloggers who are not associated with institutional media, such as newspapers and television stations. In Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-HZ, slip op. (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2011), a federal judge ruled that a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” was not “media” and, therefore, was not entitled to certain First Amendment protections that are reserved for the media. Despite the alarm that this case has generated, it actually is not a major setback for the free speech rights of bloggers.
The Case: Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox
From late 2010 to early 2011, Crystal Cox made numerous blog posts in which she accused Obsidian Finance, LLC and one of the company’s senior principals, Kevin Padrick, of corrupt, fraudulent, and illegal conduct. Obsidian and Padrick subsequently sued Cox for defamation. Rather than hiring an attorney, Cox chose to defend pro se.
In August 2011, before the case went to trial, the judge granted summary judgment to Cox with regard to all but one of her blog posts, because the posts were statements of opinion protected by the First Amendment. See Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-HZ, slip op. (D. Or. Aug. 23, 2011). A statement, such as a blog post, can be the basis for a defamation suit only if the statement is a provable assertion of fact. In contrast, statements of opinion are protected by the First Amendment. According to the judge, blog posts, by their very nature, are usually statements of opinion.
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