Oct 12, 2009

Court reporting in 140 character tweets

A new method of live court reporting is being pioneered at the Federal Court in Sydney -- by Tweeps. Journos are tweeting court news, which lawyers, judges and officials are following. Where will the courts draw the line?

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

As you read this, a new method of court reporting is being pioneered at the Federal Court in Sydney — by Tweeps.

The lawyers at the bar table, the litigants and even some court officials are following the stream of bite-sized chunks of reportage from ZDNet’s Liam Tung and The Australian’s Andrew Colley.

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4 thoughts on “Court reporting in 140 character tweets

  1. Tom McLoughlin

    This may well be the unofficial approach so far. And especially as long as the iphone or whatever is set to silence mode.

    However I have a vague memory of some courts and some jurisdictions where the judge has banned note taking by members of the public. Lawyers for parties are okay. And court approved press are okay – maybe.

    And so here’s the thing – the court produces transcripts and CD tapes at considerable expense for them and the buyer. At some stage they may decide their financial interest in the copyright of that over takes the public’s right to unfettered immediate access via note taking. Notice how cameras and camera crews are not allowed in the precincts of the court or the court room itself – I know I tried during the APEC free speech case late 2007 NSW Supreme Court.

    Secondly a judge in their own court has pretty much unlimited discretion how to conduct the proceedings. Obviously a the chief judge will have practice notes etc for general application, but then that brings us back to the first point about copyright.

    Having said that, final decisions are routinely web published, though not all, which is a very good thing, but often well after the drama of the decision days or weeks before.

    Greg Barnes and Murphy at Civil Liberties etc might have some good insights into this modern technology legal practice.

  2. Rory Lusher


    There is the possibility that court notes may not be protected under copyright, if the way that those notes are presented are in fact the only way you can effectively do it (see for instance Ownit Homes vs. D. & F. Mancuso Investments Pty Ltd. (1987)) I might be wrong but a simple transcript does not seem terribly original.

    Admittedly the threshold for originality can be pretty low but I don’t know if it’s that law. Like I said I could be wrong but those are my immediate thoughts.

  3. Stilgherrian

    This live-tweeting of AFACT v iiNet is indeed a fascinating development, Margaret.

    One sentence in your commentary stuck out for me, raising that old chestnut of what is a “journalist”, exactly?

    If journos can do this, what is to stop the litigants or people in the public gallery from doing likewise?

    The short answer is “nothing”.

    But if “people in the public gallery” can provide news of the courtroom trial, are they not then journalists? They’re providing news!

    They may not be “professional” journalists (either in the sense of being formally trained or qualified, or of being paid). They may not be “mainstream” journalists, or “good” or “unbiased” or “significant” or “ethical” or “members of the MEAA”.

    They may not have a very big audience either. But they might, for example, be providing tightly-targeted information to a very specific audience, such as the managers or shareholders of competing ISPs, here and internationally, who are wondering how the information revealed in the trial might affect their business’s operations and value.

    While some might bemoan the loss of jobs in the industrial-era media factories (newspapers etc), I see these developments producing what I’ve seen a few people call a Cambrian explosion of media innovation.

    A freelancer providing live coverage of significant events in a narrow field of interest with global reach could find work just as “lucrative” as doing general rounds work for a specific local outlet.

  4. Stilgherrian

    It’s interesting to note that Andrew Colley is in court today without his laptop. Has The Australian asked him not to tweet? He hasn’t said yet.

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