Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Apple wins US lawsuit against online reporters

AP , SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

A US judge on Friday ordered three independent online reporters to divulge confidential sources in a lawsuit brought by Apple Computer Inc, ruling that they were not protected by the First Amendment because they published trade secrets.

The ruling alarmed speech advocates, who saw the case as a test of whether people who write for Web publications enjoy the same legal protections as reporters for mainstream publications. Among those are protections afforded under California's "shield" law, which is meant to encourage the publication of information in the public's interest.

The reporters -- who run sites followed closely by Apple enthusiasts -- allegedly published product descriptions that Apple said employees had leaked in violation of nondisclosure agreements and possibly the US Trade Secrets Act.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled that no one has the right to publish information that could have been provided only by someone breaking the law.

"The rumor and opinion mills may continue to run at full speed," Kleinberg wrote. "What underlies this decision is the publishing of information that at this early stage of the litigation fits squarely within the definition of trade secret.

"The right to keep and maintain proprietary information as such is a right which the California Legislature and courts have long affirmed and which is essential to the future of technology and innovation generally."

In December, Apple sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does," who leaked specifications about a pending music software -- codenamed "Asteroid" -- to Monish Bhatia, Jason O'Grady and another person who writes under the pseudonym Kasper Jade. Their articles appeared in the online publications Apple Insider and PowerPage.

Apple demanded that Bhatia, O'Grady and Jade divulge their sources. The reporters refused to cooperate, saying that identifying their sources would create a "chilling effect" that could erode the media's ability to report in the public's interest.

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