In October 2011, rap fans at the Fat As Butter Festival in Newcastle were waiting expectantly for international superstar Flo Rida to wow them with his 60 minute headline act. Instead, minutes after Flo Rida was expected to walk on, a festival official announced: “Flo Rida has slept in and will not be able to make the concert.”

Festival organisers Mothership Music Pty Ltd commenced proceedings against Flo Rida and his manager alleging that the promoters had not received the performance they had paid over $50,000 for. Worse still, Flo Rida’s no show was alleged by Mothership to have caused damages to its trading reputation, impacting its ability to stage future events, attract patrons and compete with rivals in the music event industry.

Serving a superstar

But despite a number of attempts to serve Flo Rida with Mothership’s initiating process at his various “social engagements” in Australia, process servers were unable to get close enough to the artist to hand over the documents. On the application of Mothership, Gibson DCJ ordered substituted service via email and via a post on Flo Rida’s Facebook page. The court order even included the text for the Facebook post.

The “international reach of Facebook” was regarded by the Judge as a notorious fact, and cases referred to in the interlocutory judgment reveal that service via Facebook is fast becoming an acceptable alternative where traditional methods have been shown to fail.

Social media as evidence

In her final judgment, Gibson DCJ referred to YouTube video footage in evidence of angry patrons (see below) and analogised the crowd’s reaction to Flo Rida’s no-show to the “horror and indignation” felt when an aeroplane towing a sign announcing “Eat Batchelor’s Peas” flew over a town square during the 2 minute silence on armistice day in 1937. In the same way that Batchelor’s products were subsequently boycotted by the town’s residents, so Mothership’s ticket sales and sponsorships took a battering as angry patrons aired their disappointment.

Click here to view video.

Thanks to social media, the damage to Mothership’s reputation was not limited to those who witnessed the event. According to Gibson DCJ, “news of the no show spread far and wide through the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” The total damages awarded by the District Court of New South Wales amounted to $380,000 including $302,000 for loss to reputation arising from breach of contract.

Endnote: print media gets one back

Despite Her Honour’s heavy concentration on online social media, Gibson DCJ allowed one win for print media in the context of legal reporting. Reference was made to one – arguably important – case that had slipped under the radar of LexisNexis and Austlii. Curiously, the Sydney Morning Herald was the only source of the report of Master Harper’s decision in the ACT Supreme Court that a default judgment could be served via Facebook.