Suing Twitter

This evening’s news that a professional sportsman who may or may not be the person known as ‘CTB’ has filed legal proceedings against Twitter and ‘persons unknown’ appears to have prompted a degree of bemusement and nowhere more so than over at Heresy Corner, where the Heresiarch has rather uncharacteristically succeeded in massively over-analysing the situation:

So how can Twitter satisfy the demands of the English courts – assuming, that is, that CTB’s case is found to have merit? The obvious way would be to block Twitter in the UK, putting it permanently out of the reach of British judges. It could happen. Already some US-based news and gossip sites, including National Enquirer, are unviewable in Britain without use of a proxy server, so alarmed are the publishers by English libel law. If CTB’s case succeeds, or inspires others, Twitter’s bosses might begin to see such a course of action as preferable to fighting costly legal battles on foreign soil.

I don’t think I could live without Twitter. I’m frightened.

I’m not, but then I’m an old school nethead who’s seen this kind of thing several times before.

The clue to what’s actually going on here is in the statement from CTB’s lawyers – who just happen to be our old ‘friends’ Schillings – as cited by the BBC:

Lawyers at Schillings who represent CTB have issued a statement clarifying the action it has taken.

It said it was not suing Twitter but had made an application “to obtain limited information concerning the unlawful use of Twitter by a small number of individuals who may have breached a court order”.

From that we can reasonably infer both that Schillings are seeking to obtain registration information and server logs relating to a small number of specific Twitter accounts involved in the publication of CTB’s real name in breach of a High Court injunction, and that the most plausible explanation for this move would seem to be that they are operating under the belief that one or more of these accounts will be traceable back to an individual or entity that is in some way connected to one of the main parties involved in the ongoing case to which the injunction relates.

Speculating a little further, it seems eminently reasonable to think that CTB and Schillings suspect that the injunction was deliberately breached by this as yet unidentified person(s) specifically for the purpose of facilitating an application to the court to lift the injunction on the grounds that the information the injunction sought to protect was now in the public domain and had been broadcast so widely that the injunction no longer served any useful purpose.

Whether this has any prospect of success seems largely a question of whether the courts, either here or – eventually – in the US, view this as nothing more than a speculative fishing expedition or take the view, instead, that CTB and Schillings have reasonable grounds to suspect that a deliberate attempt has been made to negate the injunction by an individual or organisation with a vested, and possibly pecuniary, interest in the case to which the injunction relates.

What this will not mean, however, is the end of Twitter in the UK or large numbers of Twitter users receiving a summons to answer a charge of contempt of court simply for having retweeted a bit of salacious gossip.