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The Courts Businesses Government Censorship Apple News

Judge Finds For Apple in ThinkSecret Case 711

An anonymous reader writes: "In a case with implications for the freedom to blog, a San Jose judge tentatively ruled Thursday that Apple Computer can force three online publishers to surrender the names of confidential sources who disclosed information about the company's upcoming products. The San Jose news piece has the most detail on the ruling while Mac Daily News has some background on the case, and Gizmodo vociferously expresses an opinion on the lawsuit. We've covered the case in the past as well.
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Judge Finds For Apple in ThinkSecret Case

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  • by thegoogler ( 792786 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @09:49AM (#11843456)
    But isn't there a law that says journalists can protect there sources?
  • Bad news for Apple (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2005 @09:53AM (#11843498)
    Talk about your potential PR disaster. Sue your most rabid fans, always a good plan.
  • by Moby Cock ( 771358 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:01AM (#11843562) Homepage
    There is. However, there is a caveat that precludes them from publishing things that are trade secrets are should reasonably know are trade secrets. Such disclosure can require them to reveal sources. This is not a Deep Throat type scenario. The guy should have known not to publish what he did.

    Having said that, I want to clear something up. Did he simply report on the specs of soon to be released hardware? Was it that simple? If so, I am not sure the ought-to-have-known-these-are-trade-secrets argument holds water. If the machines were about to be released, their specs would shortly become public domain.

    Can anyone clarify?
  • by Hussman32 ( 751772 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:04AM (#11843593)
    The article didn't state it explicitly, but I was wondering if maybe they overheard the information.

    I remember when I worked at Intel in Portland, there was a bar and grill called the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse that everyone visited after work('Today's been a killer, I need CPR'). Journalists from Wired would hang out in adjacent tables and take notes as the chip designers gave away the entire roadmap without knowing a single name.
  • by Qwest94 ( 512718 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:06AM (#11843609)
    There are some US state laws that provide this sort of privilege, but no federal law. There is a big dispute in the US over this right now having to do with some journalists who outed a CIA agent. The government is trying to make the journalists name the sources, and so far it looks like the government is winning.

    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/artman/publish/arti cle_6251.shtml [capitolhillblue.com]

  • by XP_sucks ( 649991 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:08AM (#11843624)
    The NDA is a "confidentially " contract with whomever the company is disclosing the info to. It is not with the blog or website that that person leaks the info too. The leaker has violated the NDA, if there was one (or possibly his terms of employment) and is liable for doing so. This is completely seperate from the freedom of the press issues raised here, and more importantly the issue of online publications being somehow different that traditional media and thus not deserving of the same rights and protections. Apple is completely within its rights to go after the leakers, but should not be allowed to treat the blogs any different that say the New York Times.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:08AM (#11843626) Homepage
    sorry but judges enjoy throwing a journalist in jail in an attempt to force them to revela their sources.

    this is nothing new.

    judges get all pissy when someone tells them no.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:16AM (#11843707)
    Has anyone read the complaint? Doesn't it rely on a California law that specifically permits companies to sue anyone who solicits trade secrets from employees? Why get angry at Apple if they are only following their state's laws as they were intended to be followed?

    If you want to avoid being sued, act reasonably to avoid harming others. You don't have to know every state's laws as long as you wonder whether it's unreasonable to interfere with the employment contracts of others by requesting that they break their confidentiality agreements -- which it is. Nick knew he was risking a suit when he solicited info from Apple employees.

  • Great . . . (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theparanoidcynic ( 705438 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:24AM (#11843757)
    So in the US you can force journalists to cough up the names of people who leaked Apple product specs, but you can't force them to cough up the name of the Bush admin shill who outed a CIA agent. Fucking fantastic.
  • by redragon ( 161901 ) <codonnell AT mac DOT com> on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:32AM (#11843822) Homepage
    Many social scientists have gone to jail to protect their sources. Interesting to me that the code of ethics that many of us (social scientists) subscribe to require us to protect our sources from harm. Of course hopefully we would have forseen the danger to our sources and not published it in the first place...

    But, the implications for all sorts of research are a little freaky.
  • by JeffTL ( 667728 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:41AM (#11843894)
    I wouldn't exactly call ThinkSecret [thinksecret.com] a blog. It actually looks rather like the website that newspapers have.

    But on the other hand, the leak was not of the whistleblower variety or anything like that, so I see no reason why Apple oughtn't know what employees are leaking to the press, in violation both of trade secret law and most likely of the employees' contracts, or if in fact a competitor has directly engaged in espionage.

    Don't screw your employer (if an employee is indeed involved here) and expect to get away with it -- that is how business works.
  • Title (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:43AM (#11843908)
    Notice how the title just said "Apple". If it had been Microsoft doing the suing, I'm willing to bet the title would've been: "Your rights online: Microsoft against freedom of speech".
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jocknerd ( 29758 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @10:47AM (#11843947)
    I wouldn't compare their actions to Microsoft. I would go so far to compare their actions to the RIAA. And I own a G5, an iBook, and a iPod. I love their products, but I'm quickly losing respect for the company.
  • by b-baggins ( 610215 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:03AM (#11844073) Journal
    No, when they wrote Amendment I, it was to ensure freedom of political speech, not the ability to rat on a company's products.

    Freedom of speech has been totally twisted out of its original meaning and with the willing help of the likes of most people on slashdot. Thus we have people here screaming because a couple of bloggers might have to pay through the nose because they ratted out trade secrets, and cheering because campaign finance reform shuts down the ability of people to express political opinions through campaign contributions and media advertisement.

    In other words, they cheer when the very speech the amendment was designed to protect is stifled, and scream in anger when a type of speech the amendment could care less about is questioned.
  • by johansalk ( 818687 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:06AM (#11844099)

    "Journalists, like all citizens, are subject to the law and are not above the law, refusal (to name a source) is a defiance to the authority of the court and an obstruction of justice."... Read what's below.

    "This paper demonstrates ways in which intergovernmental bodies within Europe as well as a number of domestic jurisdictions inside and outside of Europe have sought to provide legal protection to annonymous journalists' sources. All of these jurisdictions (including United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom) have recognised that the right of the public to receive information is to a large extent dependent upon journalists who in turn rely on individuals to supply them with information, often on a confidential basis. Notwithstanding the importance of protecting source confidentiality, all the jurisdictions surveyed here recognise, to a greater or lesser degree, that source confidentiality may be overridden in certain circumstances. Among the jurisdictions surveyed, four countervailing interests are of particular relevance: the right of an accused person to a full defence, the interest of litigants in a civil trial to obtain evidence, prevention of crime and safeguarding public order or national security. In most jurisdictions, the party seeking disclosure will have to demonstrate not only the presence of a countervailing interest but also that the information sought is of sufficient importance to warrant a disclosure order. In many jurisdictions this means that the courts will weigh the harm of disclosure to freedom of expression against the countervailing interest. Given the importance of the former, the latter is only occasionally deemed dominant. In addition, in a number of jurisdictions, if the information may be obtained by other means, or if the goal served by disclosure has substantially been satisfied in another way, courts will not order disclosure. This careful balance, reflected in both international and national law standards, is necessary to protect a free press and hence the fundamental democratic right to right to freedom of expression." http://www.article19.org/docimages/638.htm
  • by Nuklearwanze ( 693728 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:12AM (#11844134) Homepage
    What if you - being a "real" journalist or a blogger - just take a wild guess at what apple's (or any other company's) next products/steps/strategies might be, but put it in a form as if you had an informant and knew for sure?
    Could you be sued for being right...? After all some product launches where easy to predict - even without any leaked information (the iMac mini being a perfect example here).
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:24AM (#11844238) Homepage
    Plenty of actual Mac developers would.

    Wozniak does.

    Woz is even contributing to the poor boy's legal fund. He's not forgotten the garage (even if Jobs has).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:36AM (#11844342)
    If you begin defining what is and what is not a journalist, drawing lines and assigning labels, then the government will control journalism and there will be no freedom of the press: the Brazilian model, born of a military government (supported strongly by the U.S., btw.)

    Journalists and what defines journalism should be left untouched by government so that corruption and crime will continue to be exposed: the American model.

    Journalists need to be protected. Where there are corrupt governments, with limits on press freedom, there are dead journalists.

    Granted that some limits should be imposed in extreme cases, such as Fox "News" and other hoary conservative organs of fiction.
  • Re:ashamed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by standards ( 461431 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:38AM (#11844356)
    I'm not an Apple fan by any measure, but I wouldn't feel ashamed at all. Here's my take on it:

    Apple has internal secrets about what they're going to do as a company. One of their own, violating a documented promise (signed contract), is leaking these secrets, permitting them to fall into the hands of the competition. They are leaking these secrets for personal gain and/or to damage Apple.

    Apple wants to identify and stop this person. However, those who know who this person is, and those who willingly distributed these secrets, are not talking under the guise of "journalistic freedom".

    The person publishing the information is simply protecting their personal business model. These "rumor" sites make a lot of money though advertising - and stopping the free flow of trade secrets - their business - will hurt their substantial income.

    This isn't about journalistic freedom, and this isn't about keeping America free. It's about the buying and selling of trade secrets in order to make money.

    These sites are all about making money, and their most profitable products are Apple's trade secrets.
  • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:39AM (#11844370) Journal
    The reporter isn't being held in contempt, which is what that law is talking about. The reporter isn't facing jail time.

    This was a civil matter seeking to subpoena someone who broke a civil contract.

    Now that Apple has this ruling, if they don't give up the source, they are violating the order of a judge.

    Shady loophole? Possibly. Contempt? Nope.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MoneyT ( 548795 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:43AM (#11844414) Journal
    Except they aren't just rumors. They were far to accurate for rumors, and the site in question solicits information from Apple employees.
  • by Anonymous Custard ( 587661 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:47AM (#11844447) Homepage Journal
    Now that Apple has this ruling, if they don't give up the source, they are violating the order of a judge.

    When you violate a judge/court's order, you are held in contempt of court - you have disrespected the judge's order.

    The law says, however, that a blogger/journalist CANNOT be held in contempt of court for saying "No, I will not comply with your order to reveal my confidential source."

    It is not legally disrespectful for a journalist to refuse a judge's order to reveal his confidential sources.
  • by kenthorvath ( 225950 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:55AM (#11844508)
    This is how real journalists get press passes, by the way - they join the associations, which check their credentials, and issue passes.

    Nowhere in the constitution does it establish any such association that officiates over who is allowed to become a member of the press. If I publish a newspaper, or an informational flyer of the same nature, I should be granted the same freedoms as any other. To do otherwise would be to claim that any citizens right to free speech can be denied because he or she was not a member of the Citizens for Free Speech Association, the likes of which may even be able to selectively deny membership. I would love to see this go to the Supreme Court. They usually have more sense over these sorts of issues.

  • Apple's Leg (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pentalive ( 449155 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:00PM (#11844548) Journal
    Apple complains about lost sales of their other machines to people who heard about the mini and waited till it came out.

    What about people who heard about the mini and waited for it instead of buying a sub-$300 X86 PC?

    Joe Computerbuyer says "Those macintoshes are so expensive, and I need a computer, guess I'm stuck with a clunky pentium 1 machine from GoodWill. Wait what's this on Think Secret - a cool new mac that *I* can afford? cool I'm wait'n for that!"

    Shouldn't Apple be saying "Thanks ThinkSecret more sales for our mini" ?
  • by Skye16 ( 685048 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:09PM (#11844643)
    Moving off topic even further; I disagree with these limitations. I understand I'm very much so in the minority, and, I recognize that I'm being an idealist, but it really bothers me.

    I suppose I wouldn't even really care but for the fact that this "Freedom of Speech" is touted so highly, first in our schools, and then in our society. The truth is, we don't have it. If they didn't ACT like we had it, I wouldn't mind nearly as much. This applies to everything, I suppose, as we are, at least in name, the "land of the free". Funny how many restrictions we have, being the land of the free. Realistically, I know they're necessary, but, by definition, if we're restricted, we're not free. If people didn't act like we were, I wouldn't care, but the fact that people recite this blatantly false liturgy as if it were the truth really, really bothers me.

    But I digress, and don't really add anything to this conversation other than my dismay. Feel free to mod me off topic. /salute
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jessecurry ( 820286 ) <jesse@jessecurry.net> on Friday March 04, 2005 @01:12PM (#11845270) Homepage Journal
    unfortunately Apple is unable to deal with this internally. I doubt that the person who leaked this information is going to stand up and proclaim that they did it.
    And it would be very hard for Apple to control access to data pertaining to products that are being developed if the person leaking the information is part of the development team.
    I do whole-heartedly agree that if thinksecret were publishing nothing but rumors that it should be protected from revealing sources, but the information on the sight was far too complete to have come from speculation alone. If a large magazine where to publish this information, which could have a negative effect on Apple's survival, they would be held liable too. We shouldn't try to make this a David vs Goliath issue.
    And as far as what defines a journalist I would hope that it would be anyone who publishes information for public consumption, but that's just what I'd hope.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 04, 2005 @01:14PM (#11845287)
    A very good post.
    I'd like to add one more thing: Ethics.
    Journalists may have freedom to report news, but that does not absolve them from having to have ethics. It's where the part of journalism that has more gray than black and white areas. It's not something you simply guess, but must be learned. And to be a member of professional journalist organization, one should be able to demonstrate some ethics. Even if you are not a member, you should demonstate ethics if you want to be considered a journalist. Spreading rumors is not journalism (and ThinkSecret is a rumor site despite its higher rate of accuracy than the average sites).
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rpdillon ( 715137 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @01:37PM (#11845490) Homepage
    I don't think this is really about obstruction of justice. This ties in very closely with freedom of speech/freedom of the press, though.

    Just because someone says something you don't like doesn't mean they have to tell you where they got their information. Sure, the guy who told you may have violated a contract, but that is not a criminal matter, it is a civil matter.

    Obstruction of justice is interference with the courts or a law enforcement officer:

    obstruction of justice
    n. an attempt to interfere with the administration of the courts, the judicial system or law enforcement officers, including threatening witnesses, improper conversations with jurors, hiding evidence or interfering with an arrest. Such activity is a crime.
    link [law.com]

    I understand where Apple is coming from (they have a right to try to find out), but this doesn't tie in with obstruction of justice at all, as far as I can see. There comes a point when private companies that are pursuing civil matters are trying to get the criminal justice system to do their work for them (like having an FBI task force dedicated to online music piracy). This is not nearly that bad, but it is moving in that direction. Apple has resources other than simply suing someone for information. This just seems wrong, to me at least.

  • by rjung2k ( 576317 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:11PM (#11845850) Homepage
    Would you prefer a "journalism" license thats issued by the federal government? I'm sure the White House would.

    Who says the White House would get a say in the matter? There are lots of ways of certifying journalists that don't involve the government at all.

    And it's not as if our current system is any great shakes, either -- Just look at how much news coverage Michael Jackson is getting over Jeff Gannon, for Pete's sake. Or the recently-outed group of "independent" commentators who were actually paid shills of the Administration. Hell, the fact that Michael Moore produced more Iraq war revelations in Fahrenheit 9/11 than ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox combined tells you how totally eff'ed up American journalism is already.
  • by damian cosmas ( 853143 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:49PM (#11846228)
    Isn't this more of a CONTRACT being broken, not a law ? Someone broke ther NDA CONTRACT. Not quite the same as breaking "the law".

    Unless, of course, the "law" in question is the Uniform Trade Secrets Act of California, which allows a corporation to recover damages for misappropriation of technichal information by its employees. Either an Apple employee was this blogger's source, and violated the USTA, or the blogger's source wasn't an apple employee, thus needing to violate innumerable other laws in order to acquire the information in question.

    It applies to TORTS as well as crimes. Someone else [slashdot.org] has already elaborated on this.
  • NO "right to know" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by riversky ( 732353 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @05:17PM (#11848024)
    Apple is not the government or a public entity, therefore no one has the right to know about their trade secrets. They have a the right to keep competitors from using and perhaps causing damage to Apple's product line. There is no legitimate reason a person has the right to know PRIVATE information whether is it Apple's or my medical records. It is not in the interest of the public. It is theft plain and simple. And Think Secret "fenced" the information.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:01PM (#11848456)
    Things like water table contamination, food chain contamination, illegal conduct, the illegal release of toxic chemicals into the environment, these are matters relevant to the "Public Good". Apple's latest R&D Efforts simply do not fall under that category.

    And why not? Perhaps the latest R&D isn't as urgent as whether or not people are dying from contaminated water. But you are simply wrong here.

    It is not necessary for the Public to be aware of Apple's R&D Efforts, until Apple is ready to release that information. Knowing Apple's R&D Plans are not necessary to protect the public from illegal activity.

    Huh? First, illegal activity is subjective. There's a lot of activities that are illegal and probably shouldn't be (eg, drug use, sodomy, etc) and there's legal activities that probably should be but isn't (eg, rent-seeking on the public dollar, politician lying about a conflict of interest).

    Second, the public was indeed being protected. By releasing early Apple's near term marketing plans, thousands of Apple customers during the month of January were assisting in making better buying decisions. That's useful information.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:51PM (#11850563) Homepage Journal
    This case seems to be coming down to what's a journalist and who's not, and journalists have 1st amendment rights and others don't.

    May I say right now "WTF?"

    2600 Magazine claims often that they are protected by the constitution because they print on PAPER. If they were a website or an electronically distrubuted newsletter (like the famous PHRACK case), they would have been shut down long ago by the government or by corporations that don't want them publishing how to break through security.

    So the question you need to start asking yourself is, are you willing to take that first step towards all censorship to protect Apple's trade secrets?

    Because once you do, security flaws in windows could be deemed trade secrets.

    Is it okay for the Paparattzi (sorry for the spelling) to go through the trash of celebrities to find some juicy tidbit of information to publish in some rag like the Inquirer? I mean, that's for money too, so let's not knock Think Secret for trying to make a buck -- they are just like every other publication or "news organization" in that they want to get the salacious info first, because that's how they make money.

    What's the difference between revealing that Apple's going to make a Mac Mini or that Michael Jackson has relations with little boys?

    What's the difference between revealing that Apple's going to come out with a iPod flavor that you can taste, and revealing that Dick Cheney has stolen 12 Billion Dollars of your money by funnelling it through Halliburton?

    Isn't all of this "news"? And therefore, isn't any organzation, no matter how fly-by-night, that REPORTS THE NEWS, a "news organzation"?

    And who's going to deceide what is and isn't news?

    Because if you're going to read about it, if you have a hunger to know, if you're going to visit the sites that tell you about Apple's upcoming products, Windows flaws, Michael Jackson's sexual orientation, Martha Stewart's jailtime, Dick Cheney's thefts, or how to break into Home Depot's mainframe, then publications, websites, booklets, and other printed and digital material will be created to meet that need.

    If you don't like it, then stop reading.

    But don't legislate the rest of us into not reading because that, my friend, is censorship, and that's a road you don't want to travel.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by feloneous cat ( 564318 ) on Sunday March 06, 2005 @01:09PM (#11859022)
    He is absolutely right.

    I am a paying Apple Developer (associate class) and the non-disclosure agreement is pretty tight. I can't reveal even if I possess some of Apple's Technology, much less what it does, how good it is, etc.

    So when asked I tell people I know nothing about upcoming Tiger and whether is runs real spiffy.

    I know zip about how I wish the dashboard WASN'T something that made the display transparent.

    I pretty much am disclosing nothing about anything.

    I take contracts serious because I once was sued (it never got to court and my lawyer pretty much shut down the alleged "suers" before they managed to get anything out the door).

    My point is that these are not to be entered into lightly. Read them. If you don't like the terms, attempt to modify them or don't sign it.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.