US court defines difference between journalist and blogger – must be employed by big media companies

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If we live in Oregon, we're screwed. (Image: Tom Solari/techgeek.com.au)

An American court has finally made a difference between a journalist and a blogger, though the definition might have some serious consequences for many other self-identified bloggers as if you want to protect your sources, then you should start looking for a job with News Corp or Fairfax.

The US District Court in Portland, Oregon has ruled that in order to qualify for media shield laws – which gives protection of the journalist not to identify their sources – bloggers must be affiliated with “any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system”.

That statement came from the decision by US District Judge Marco A. Hernandez, after a blogger was sued for defamation by investment firm Obsidian Finance Group. The blogger, Crystal Cox, wrote several blog posts that were critical of the firm and co-founder Kevin Padrick; so the firm responded with a $10 million lawsuit.

According to Seattle Weekly:

Now here’s where the case gets more important: Cox argued in court that the reason her post was more factual was because she had an inside source that was leaking her information. And since Oregon is one of 40 U.S. states including Washington with media shield laws, Cox refused to divulge who her source was.

But without revealing her source Cox couldn’t prove that the statements she’d made in her post were true and therefore not defamation, or attribute them to her source and transfer the liability.

So, this judgement means if you publish a leak and happen to not be affiliated with News Corp or another big media firm, you are forced by the law to divulge that source. It appears to only to affect Oregon as an attorney talking to the Seattle Weekly – Bruce E. H. Johnson from Davis Write Tremaine, who also wrote the media shield laws for Washington State – said that a Californian court has already ruled bloggers are shielded after Apple tried to obtain the source of its leaks:

“Fortunately we had the O’Grady case to say that bloggers were media when I wrote the law,” Johnson says. “Washington’s shield law is technologically neutral and it relies on the definition of news media as any news media, including Internet.”

So, all is not lost if you happen to be a blogger – especially in the tech industry.

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