Karolina Rozhnova: Over the rainbow – High Court orders Twitter to disclose information about parody account
William Fry trainee solicitor Karolina Rozhnova considers a recent case in which Twitter was ordered by the High Court to disclose information about a parody account.
The High Court has ordered Twitter to disclose information about the identity of creators and controllers of a parody account using the logo of Fastway Couriers (the plaintiff) and featuring abusive tweets. Mr Justice Allen was satisfied that there was a “strong prima facie case” made out by the plaintiff in relation to the goodwill in its name and mark, damaged by its use on the parody account and by association with the tweets posted on that account. Twitter was ordered to disclose the information within seven days of the judgment, delivered on Friday 5 June 2020.
The account first appeared on the platform in late 2019 and had numerous name changes, most recently appearing under the handle “Fartway Deliveries Ireland”. It was deactivated after the plaintiff initiated legal proceedings in late April. The plaintiff’s solicitors wrote to Twitter in early April 2020, following which the account was suspended for several days. It was reinstated at a later point and Twitter then declined to disclose information concerning the identity of the account’s controller. Twitter found it did not violate its terms of service or rules.
The tweets posted by the parody account comprised insults about diverse geographical areas referred to as “holes” and “non-essential areas” to which it claimed that Fastway Couriers would not deliver. The account counted about 3,000 followers, and the plaintiff argued that some Twitter users could have been under the impression that they were interacting with Fastway operators. It depicted Fastway’s staff and services as incompetent and used “foul and abusive language”. Allen J. rejected that anyone reading the entries posted by the account “could sensibly have believed” that the account was genuinely operated by the plaintiff, where replies suggested that parcels had been, for example “flung over the rainbow” or the contents eaten by drivers.
The plaintiff failed to make the case that the parody account portrayed its staff as using foul and abusive language. However, it succeeded in arguing that the postings maliciously and wrongly deemed its staff incompetent and opened them to ridicule.
Damage to the goodwill in Fastway’s name and logo
Fastway Couriers alleged that the account breached their intellectual property rights. The parody account used the plaintiff’s registered trademark, name and logo. The High Court agreed that the use of the plaintiff’s logo by the account could be damaging, when associated with the comments posted on the parody account and that the case for granting the order was “sufficiently justified” on this ground.
The plaintiff failed on claims that the parody account interfered with the plaintiff’s business and contractual relations.
The Order (known as a Norwich Pharmacal Order, which we discussed in another context here) made by the High Court allows the plaintiff to take legal action against the account’s controllers to redress the wrongs complained of in its application.
- Karolina Rozhnova is a trainee solicitor at William Fry.