July 30, 2014

In this installment of his “Content Matters” column, Jenner & Block Partner Andrew J. “A.J.” Thomas examines implications of a recent Ninth Circuit decision regarding an Internet “citizen journalist.”  He explains that the blogger had been sued for defamation based on statements she posted on her blog about an Oregon bankruptcy trustee.  In Obsidian Finance Group LLC v. Cox, the Ninth Circuit reversed a $2.5 million defamation judgment against the blogger, finding that the blog addressed a matter of public concern and that the lower court jury should have been instructed that it could not hold the blogger liable unless it found she acted negligently.  While the decision was hailed as a victory for bloggers, A.J. observes that “many difficult questions about protecting speech online, including to what extent bloggers should be treated like traditional journalists in other contexts, remain to be answered.” In particular, the demise of the distinction between media and non-media speakers under First Amendment law will have implications for whether bloggers benefit from the reporter’s privilege doctrine and statutory shield laws that protect against disclosure of confidential sources.