Mac Musings

It's Not Apple vs. the Mac Web

Daniel Knight - 2005.03.23

No, Macworld UK, it isn't Apple vs. the Mac Web (see Appeal filed in Apple v Mac Web case) as the title of your article implies. At least the article clears up the confusion, but still....

The story isn't Apple taking on the Mac Web. It's Apple trying to plug the leaks that give sites like Think Secret, AppleInsider, and PowerPage the confidential trade secret information that they've been publishing - and have those sites think twice about publishing trade secrets in the future.

Most of the Mac Web is not in the rumor-and-insider-information business. And we're far from unanimous in supporting these rumor and information sites. Yes, we all believe in the First Amendment, but whether that applies in these cases is something we disagree on.

I think most of us are of the opinion that the problem is that Apple isn't careful enough about who it discloses information to. Apple has a history of dealing with leakers, just as their lawyers have a history of doing what they can to pull information once it's been published on rumor sites, but so far it hasn't been enough of a deterrent to keep a few people from spilling the beans.

Apple claims they have exhausted all means at their disposal to identify the source of the leaked information, so the next step is to try to obtain helpful information from the very sites that published it.

The rumor sites exist only because there are leaks, so it's obviously in their self-interest to stonewall Apple, protect their sources, and stay in business. In this case, they're trying to argue that the identities of their informants should be protected by shield laws.

Apple disagrees, and so did the first judge to rule on this. Both maintain that unauthorized sharing of trade secrets is a crime and that shield laws are not meant to protect criminals.

Criminals. Think about that.

Apple is trying to identify criminals - those who traffic in trade secrets - and has to enlist the aid of those who benefit from violated nondisclosure agreements. It's pretty obvious that these sites aren't going to cough up the information without a court order, and then not until they've appealed is as far as possible.

Although the media likes to paint this as a First Amendment issue, a threat to journalists everywhere, and whether "bloggers" (as they call everyone who writes for the Web, whether in a blog or not) are journalists and protected by the First Amendment.

The simple fact is that a free press must be a responsible press. Movie stars sometimes sue the tabloids over lies. A certain SUV maker has been fighting Consumer Reports for years over tip tests.

If the information published isn't accurate, the publisher may be sued - but we're going a step beyond that in this case. Trade secrets, such as the formula for Coca Cola, have to remain secrets, and the press must have a compelling reason ("the public interest") to publish negative information about smoking, Love Canal, potentially dangerous medications, and the like.

If Think Secret, AppleInsider, PowerPage, and others wish to publish trade secrets, they need to be prepared to pay the piper.

In the end, the courts will decide how trade secrets and a free press interrelate, how criminally liable the recipients and publishers of trade secrets are, and whether shield laws apply in cases like this.

The whole Web - Mac and otherwise - is paying close attention.