An interesting case out of Oregon has held that because of the “looser, more relaxed communication style” of blogs, it was not defamatory for blogger Crystal Cox of obsidianfinancesucks.com to accuse bankruptcy trustee Kevin Padrick of various forms of perfidy.
Cox’s blogged allegations against Padrick includeed money laundering, perpetrating “fraud on the courts,” and engaging in various “illegal activity.”
Most stunning to me, however, was that in one post, Cox strongly implied that Padrick had engaged in “Solar Tax Credit Crimes.” If that doesn’t sound reputation-harming to you, consider the geographical context: This took place in Portland, Oregon, my friends.
True story: P-Town is so environmentally conscious, that even at McDonald’s, after you bus your own table, you have to separate out your recyclables.
So I can only imagine that for Porlanders, Solar Tax Credit Crimes are right up there with murder, arson, and aggravated failure to compost.
But Cox didn’t merely imply things. Cox blogged that Padrick was a “Thief,” a “CRIMINAL,” and a “Corrupt Attorney.”
If you were taking a law school exam, you would quickly identify those statements as being factual assertions, which, if provably false and reptuation harming, could give rise to a claim for defamation.
But the federal court in Oregon took a more realist approach. It concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable reader could not have regarded the statements as provably false assertions.
The court said that “the extensive use of hyperbolic and figurative language, and the posting of several questions rather than statements,” tended to show that Cox’s statements were not reasonably to be regarded as provable factual assertions.
What’s more, it mattered that the medium at issue was a blog. The court’s August 23 order, according to the RCFP report, explained: “Blogs are a subspecies of online speech which inherently suggest that statements made there are not likely provable assertions of fact[.]”
Yikes. If this is a victory for blog freedom, it sure comes with a sting.