By Kevin O'Keefe

Defamation suit versus crime blogger dismissed

It turns out citizen journalism has its perils, especially when reporting on crime. Mashable’s Alex Fitzpatrick (@alexjamesfitz) shares the story of a crime blogger sued for defamation.

Alexandra Goddard, a 45-year-old crime blogger who covered a rape case and was subsequently sued for defamation, has reached a settlement in her case, the details of which were released Thursday.

Under the settlement, the lawsuit against Goddard will come to an end, no statements will be retracted and no money was exchanged, according to WCPO (Ohio television station).

Goddard started investigating and blogging about a rape case in Ohio involving members of a high school football team. Two members were eventually convicted of raping and kidnapping a 16-year-old girl, taking her to multiple parties while she was too drunk to fight back.

One of the players not charged, through his parents, sued Goddard for defmation and requested the court to issue subpoenas to identify the anonymous commentators. Goddard, adding commentary to her report, had argued anyone who knew what was happening and did not stop it was guilty of a crime. Commenters jumped in with her.

Social media, as Fitzpatrick reports, was entwined from the beginning.

The suspects posted Twitter messages, Instagram photos and videos of the incident, serving as a horrific digital timeline of the crime. Goddard reposted some of this evidence to her blog before it could be deleted.

Goddard posts that depsite the suit, she’ll continue covering the case.

This site was happy to provide a forum for locals in Steubenville to engage in important speech protected by the First Amendment and will continue to do so.

To her credit, Goddard’s coverage of the incident drew national attention, including a major story in the New York Times.

The basis for the defamation claim was falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime. Though truth may have been a defense, Goddard did later acknowledge on her blog that she had no evidence of the plaintiff’s direct involvement in the criminal activity.

Goddard is arguably a journalist as well. In which case she would have a “Qualified privilege” to report as she did. Such a privilege applies where it is determined that it is in the public’s interest to get the reported facts. So long as Goddard was not acting with “malicious intent” her reports would be protected free speech.

Though I absolutely laud Goddard for what she did, the safer route for bloggers, including lawyers reporting on criminal activity, is to report and make sure anything else you’re saying is prefaced with ‘in my opnion,’ which can shield you from a claim.

Insurance coverage with a ryder that covers publishing/advertising is a prerequisite to blogging. No matter the validity of any claim, you want to have coverage for the cost of legal defense.

Defamation cases are not easy in the United States. In addition, sensible plaintiffs with a case that is a close don’t want to sue those who hold a powerful microphone.

When they do sue it can be a sobering experience, as appears to be the case here. The plaintiffs’s suit brought on an onslaught from bloggers supporting Goddard. His name will live forever on Google.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Newtown Graffiti.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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