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An Oregon court recently ruled that Crystal Cox, a blogger, is not a member of the "media." It's a decision that likely resonates with small business owners and blog writers nationwide.
Businesses that run blogs often worry about defamation suits. And maybe they should. It seems that blogs in some jurisdictions aren't afforded the same type of journalistic protection reserved for more traditional media outlets.
Cox was accused of defaming Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick on her blog. She accused Padrick of behaving illegally and unethically when he acted as a trustee of a federal bankruptcy.
Padrick sued, and prevailed. The court found that as a blogger, Cox was not entitled to media shield law protection.
Shield laws protect journalists and other media professionals. Those covered by shield laws do not need to divulge their sources. Cox argued that as a member of the media, she did not have to reveal what sources she relied on in coming up with her blog posts. The court disagreed.
The judge found that Oregon shield laws only applied to those who are in certain fields, including newspapers, books, or news services. "Blogs" aren't mentioned in the statutes.
A judge has now ordered Cox to pay $2.5 million in damages for her blog posts. Small business owners and bloggers should know that shield laws vary by state. Laws in some states are broader.
For example, in Washington State any "entity that is in the business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public by any means" qualifies under their law. The Washington law likely covers bloggers.
Business owners should still be wary of blog defamation. Even if their state shield laws cover their business' blogs, they could still be sued for defamation. If journalists publish defamatory statements, like blogger Crystal Cox, they can still face liability unless the statements are true or privileged.