Published October 19, 2009
| Newscorp Australian Papers
Worried that people are too starry-eyed over micro-blogging site Twitter? Keep on worrying.
The Federal Court in Australia will now leave it up to individual judges to decide if court cases can be covered live on Twitter.
The issue arose after two technology journalists, Andrew Colley from The Australian and Liam Tung from ZDNet Australia, used the microblogging service to publish running reports of the landmark iiNet copyright case.
Last week the Perth Internet firm's lawyers cross-examined four senior film executives from a group of 34 companies attempting to prosecute iiNet. If successful, the case could make Australian Internet providers liable for movie piracy.
Making Twitter history
The Twitter reporting is also a first for Australia: The reporters used their personal Twitter feeds, on which they identify themselves as journalists, and used laptops since mobiles and recording devices are prohibited in court.
Justice Dennis Cowdroy soon became aware of what was happening but opted not to stop them.
"On the basis that Twittering does not distract or interfere with the conduct of my court, I personally have no objection to its use," he told The Australian.
"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."
Federal Court chief executive Warwick Soden said the court would be deeply concerned at the use of any technology that disrupted proceedings.
"However, based on what we know so far, this does not appear to fall into that category," he said. "We live in an age where portable electronic devices offer a range of communication tools and are not just mobile phones. Used properly they promote efficient business practice.
"It is always up to individual judges the way they conduct matters before them."
Colley started tweeting coverage on October 6, the first day of the trial, with Tung joining on day two. However, Colley recently stopped tweeting due to technical issues, then News Limited pulled the plug on his Twitter coverage saying the issue of work tweets was "under consideration."
"People have not been stopped twittering, but there are two issues. Firstly, employees' priority should be posting content on company properties," said News spokeswoman Creina Chapman.
"Secondly, there is a risk for the company when there is no opportunity to legal their content. What if a tweet is in contempt of court or it's defamatory? The whole idea is that we have editors who check content before it goes out."
ZDNet, which is part of CBS Interactive, is promoting its "live courtside Twitter feed" on its website.
"Knowing this case was of extreme interest to our audience, we wanted to make sure people could see our coverage in whatever forum they chose," said CBS managing director Wendy Hogan.
She said the risk of legal issues was assessed with CBS lawyers and was similar to any form of live reporting. The iiNet trial resumes on November 2.