As demonstrated by this very newsletter, the days of publishing information on paper distributions are long gone. Businesses today utilize email marketing, blog posts, Facebook or Twitter, and almost everyone has a website. Recent case law confirms, however, that the law governs publications on electronic media in a similar matter as traditional publication.
A federal appeals court ruled early this year that First Amendment protections against libel or defamation claims apply to all speakers, not just the mainstream media. The decision reversed a $2.5 million dollar libel verdict against Crystal Cox, a blogger who was sued for defamation by Obsidian Finance Group and its principal, after Cox published posts on several websites accusing them of illegal activities.
The district court found that Obsidian and its principal were not required to offer proof of fault – whether negligence or actual malice – or actual damages to establish liability against Cox, because Cox failed to submit “evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist.” The Appeals Court rejected the lower court’s holding and stated that, “a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media … the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.” Since Cox’s blog post addressed a matter of public concern, the Appeals Court held that the defendants had to show Cox acted negligently to find her liable for defamation.
Businesses, content marketers, PR writers, website operators and others social media users who use the Internet as a medium to speak publicly enjoy the same First Amendment protections from defamation claims as traditional media publishers. This, of course, is good news for those businesses that regularly use social media, web posts, and blogs to communicate, but not-so-good news for those who have Internet or mobile app posts about their companies. In either
case, we can help establish policies and frameworks on how your business or employees utilize digital media, or how you should respond to any electronic publications about your company.