For converged communicators in MMC3200 (Law and Ethics in Communication), an interesting legal case – one that shows how the First Amendment’s interpretations continue to evolve.
As reported by Maura Dolan in the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-blogger-1st-amendment-20140117,0,5295817.story#axzz2s7nol9cx), a blogger was sued by Obsidian Finance Group after she accused the group of misconduct on her blog. A lower court ruled against the blogger, awarding Obsidian $2.5 million in damages. The blogger chose to appeal.
The next step in the process was an appellate court – the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. The appellate court overturned the jury’s award on the grounds that the blogger’s speech was protected because it involved topics of public concern. According to the court, she could not be punished for “presumed, unproven harm” to the company unless the company could show that she acted with malice or published material she knew to be false.
This case is significant for several reasons. One of the most important, though, is that it extends First Amendment protections to bloggers – protections that are often associated in the public’s mind only with “traditional media.” Thus, the company could not win a lawsuit against the blogger unless it could prove that she had malicious intentions – proof the company was unable to show.
It’s worth keeping in mind as we continue to evaluate the liberties provided under the First Amendment.