May 3, 2024 2 min read

Astroworld trial delayed as Apple insists it's a news organisation

Apple is very keen to get itself removed as a defendant in the Astroworld litigation. Its attempts to do that through an appeals court means that the first trial relating to the crowd surge tragedy that occurred at the 2021 edition of the festival, due to start next week, has been stayed

Astroworld trial delayed as Apple insists it's a news organisation

The start of the first Astroworld trial - which was due to get underway next week - has been postponed. It follows further moves by Apple to have itself removed as a defendant in the litigation, in which the tech giant is relying on rules intended to protect the free speech rights of news media. 

The judge overseeing the Astroworld cases, Kristen Hawkins, previously denied two motions for dismissal filed by Apple, and the tech giant is now appealing those decisions. That has resulted in the main legal proceedings being stayed. 

Acknowledging that fact, Hawkins said during a court hearing yesterday, “Unless I hear differently, the trial is stayed”. She subsequently said that she'd been notified by the appeals court that it had denied a request from lawyers working for the Astroworld victims to lift the stay. 

Ten people died and hundreds more were injured in a crowd surge at the 2021 edition of the Houston-based, Travis Scott founded and Live Nation promoted Astroworld festival. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed following the tragedy, with the first to get to trial involving the family of one of those who died, Madison Dubiski. Jury selection had been due to begin next Tuesday. 

Apple is named as a defendant because it livestreamed Scott's headline set during which the crowd surge occurred. At the heart of the Astroworld litigation is the claim that failings in the way the festival was planned and managed contributed to the tragedy. Though in the case of Apple, the specific claim is that it placed its cameras around the festival's main stage in a way that affected that placement of barriers and reduced the available space for festival-goers. 

Numerous people and companies connected to the festival were listed as defendants in the lawsuits. Many tried to have themselves removed on the basis they had no involvement in the planning of the festival, or the delivery of safety and security on site. Hawkins approved some motions for dismissal, but denied others, including from Apple. 

In appealing Hawkins’ decisions, Apple is relying on specific rules in Texas law that apply to media organisations which are intended to protect First Amendment free speech rights. According to the Associated Press, Apple lawyer Kent Rutter told the court, “It remains our position that our conduct is protected by the First Amendment”. 

Jason Itkin, representing the Dubiski family, has hit out at those claims. Rutter insisted that when livestreaming Astroworld, Apple was webcasting an event “with significant public interest”, and was therefore acting as a news media organisation. 

However, Itkin argued that Apple defines itself as a tech company not a media company, with Apple News being a content aggregation service not a news provider. “This is not a free speech case”, he added, “and they know that”. Itkin said he'd continue to try to get the stay caused by Apple's appeal lifted, going to the Texas Supreme Court if necessary. 

Hawkins herself seemed generally convinced by Itkin’s arguments, questioning the logic of equating livestreams of entertainment events to news. At one point she asked whether a livestream of animals in a zoo would be news. “Yes, it would be”, Apple’s lawyer insisted. 

Nevertheless, for now the timeline of the Astroworld litigation is in the hands of the appeals court. 

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