There also is an important provision under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that may protect YOU if a third party – not you or your employee or someone acting under your direction – posts something on your blog or website that is defamatory. We cover this protection in more detail in the section on Publishing the Statements and Content of Others.

Fair Report Privilege

In Virginia, the precise scope of the fair report privilege is not clear because all of the cases interpreting it have involved reports of court proceedings. The privilege covers reports of court proceedings, including matters stated in court documents, when the report is made in good faith and substantially accurate.

In Alexandria Gazette Corp. v. West, 93 S.E.2d 274, 279 (Va. 1956), the Virginia Supreme Court stated that "[t]he publication of public records to which everyone has a right of access is privileged, if the publication is a fair and substantially correct statement of the transcript of the record." Because the case involved court proceedings not other government records, this statement would not necessarily bind later courts, but it is likely that Virginia courts would apply the privilege to government records open to the public. In that case, you would be privileged to report on information contained in marriage and divorce records, birth and death records, and property records, among other things, in addition to matters reflected in court records and proceedings.

A few federal courts interpreting Virginia law have applied the fair report privilege to "governmental actions," like the unofficial public remarks of a member of Congress, Chapin, 993 F.2d at 1097, and an official letter of reprimand leaked to the press, Reuber, 925 F.2d at 713.

Neutral Reportage Privilege

CMLP has not identified any cases in Virginia concerning the neutral reportage privilege. If you are aware of any, please contact us.

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