#iitrial — Australia’s first twitter hashtag to go from trial to the High Court?

Leanne O’Donnell

On 4 February 2010, I woke at 5:00am to fly to Sydney to hear the judgment in Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd, the first trial in the world to proceed to judgment involving a suit against an internet service provider (‘ISP’) claiming copyright infringement on its part due to alleged authorisation of the copyright infringement of its users.

My frustration in the delayed flight was tempered by receiving in a taxi at the door steps to the Court the critical finding of Justice Cowdroy in real-time — thanks to Twitter:

@mmalone26   iiNet did not authorize the infringements #iitrial 9:40 AM Feb 4th 

During the four weeks of the iiNet trial in October and November 2009, the use of twitter and blogs by various journalists and bloggers to provide updates and commentary on the case attracted significant interest in Australia and overseas. Justice Cowdroy soon became aware of what was happening:

On the basis that Twittering does not distract or interfere with the conduct of my court, I personally have no objection to its use. … 
I believe that the public has a legitimate right to be fully informed of proceedings, particularly proceedings such as (the iiNet case) which have attracted considerable public interest.
Twittering can serve to inform the public in a more speedy and comprehensive manner than may be possible through traditional media coverage.

During the appeal of Justice Cowdroy’s decision before the Full Federal Court in Sydney in August 2010, the #iitrial tag on twitter was again used by journalists and bloggers to live tweet the hearing from the court room.  And by this time, I had also become active on twitter.

This use of technology was not to be repeated when the case reached the High Court in Canberra late last year.  Members of the public (much to the displeasure of our tech-dependent clients), were not allowed to have electronic devices in the court room. Given the UK Supreme Court now allows ‘live text based communications’ and in fact maintains a twitter account of its own, it seems timely for the High Court to revisit its rules in relation to the use of electronic communications in the court room.

The High Court’s judgment was handed down in Canberra on Friday 20 April 2012 at 10:00am. The parties do not need to attend in Canberra. The Chief Judge reads out the order in open court and a High Court Registry official then emails the parties the judgment and a summary of the judgment.

#iitrial was trending world-wide on twitter as the clock ticked over to 10:00am.  Graham Phillips and I were in Perth with iiNet’s executive team.  With laptops, mobiles and numerous screens open the boardroom was on edge.  A friend, Ellen Broad, was attending court and agreed to send me a text message as soon as she heard the result. At 10:04 (8:04 Perth time) my mobile pinged and I saw only the word ‘dismissed’.  I slid my phone to Michael Malone, iiNet’s CEO and said, you better read that out.

A minute or so thereafter the summary of the judgment was available on the High Court’s website and emailed to Graham and me, together with the judgment. Here’s a taste of the action as it unfolded on twitter:

Michael Malone  @mmalone26 Two hours to go. Waiting nervously for the #iitrial outcome at iiNet HQ in Perth.
@mmalone26 #iitrial appeal dismissed!
10:04 AM - 20 Apr 12 
@MsLods  Stoked :) #iiTrial RT @TrendsAustralia Leanne O’Donnell, @mslods is now trending in Australia http://trendsmap.com/au
@herbertgeer Herbert Geer celebrates High Court’s unanimous decision in iiNet case http://bit.ly/IrUtc5 #iitrial

It was a privilege to work on landmark litigation and particularly pleasing to be part of such a successful outcome for iiNet before the High Court.  A very unexpected outcome of my work on this case has been embracing the potential of twitter as a resource for keeping on top of legal and client issues, sharing views and news and, last but not least, meeting new and interesting people.

LEANNE O’DONNELL is a senior associate at Herbert Geer (@HerbertGeerIPTE) and a member of Herbert Geer’s legal team which acted on behalf of iiNet. You can find Leanne on twitter at @MsLods

© 2012 Leanne O’Donnell

email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(2012) 37(3) AltLJ 215
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