Apple won the green light to subpoena amateur publishers for their confidential sources, a Californian Judge ruled today. Apple Computer, which wants to discover who leaked product information to three web sites, can now proceed with its subpoena against one of the ISPs hosting two of the websites, Santa Clara county court Judge James Kleinberg has ruled, as well as the websites themselves.
"Unlike the whistleblower who discloses a health, safety or welfare hazard affecting all, or the government employee who reveals mismanagement or worse by our public officials, [the sites] are doing nothing more than feeding the public's insatiable desire for information," Kleinberg ruled.
A demand primarily stoked by the corporation itself, which wants as many members of the public as possible to buy its products - he failed to add.
Sidestepping the issue of whether amateurs deserved protection usually afforded to The Fourth Estate, Kleinberg wrote "Even if the movants are journalists, this is not the equivalent of a free pass." Kleinberg firmly defined the trade secret information as STOLEN property.
"The Court makes no findings as to the ultimate merits of Apple's claim, or any defenses to those claims," wrote the Judge. "Those issues remain for another day."
However the implications go far beyond the Swiftian debate of whether bloggers are journalists, an issue which exercises navel gazers in both fraternities.
"This is a broad-brush ruling that threatens journalists of all stripes," said Electronic Frontier Foundation legal director Cindy Cohn. The EFF is defending two of the sites, PowerPage and AppleInsider. ThinkSecret is being sued by Apple under trade secret legislation.
"Apple did not use this as a last resort, but did only a perfunctory investigation before going on to subpoena the journalists," said the EFF's Kurt Opsahl.
Writing at ZDNet Dan Farber warned that Apple founder Steve Jobs risked tarnishing his legacy by pursuing the confidential sources with such zeal. He has a point: journalists have longer memories than technophiliacs. Perhaps Jobs has given us something future historians will remember him by. ®
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