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When Companies Sue Bloggers...

We all lose...

It's too early to tell, but the precedent that Apple's bizzare choice to attack sites most devoted to the 'cult of Mac' with lawsuits could have a chilling effect on blogging. From the Electronic Freedom Foundation's press release:

On December 13, Apple filed suit against "Does 1-20" in a Santa Clara court. The company obtained a court order that allows it to issue subpoenas to AppleInsider and PowerPage for the names of the "Does" who allegedly leaked the information in question. EFF is defending the publishers against these subpoenas, arguing that the anonymity of bloggers' sources is protected by the same laws that protect sources providing information to journalists.

"Bloggers break the news, just like journalists do. They must be able to promise confidentiality in order to maintain the free flow of information," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Without legal protection, informants will refuse to talk to reporters, diminishing the power of the open press that is the cornerstone of a free society."

"I am very disappointed by Apple's behavior and its new policy of issuing legal threats to its best customers," added Jason O'Grady, publisher of PowerPage. "Is corporate paranoia really more important than the First Amendment?"

Bloggers and other web journalists are at greater risk from these type of strong arm tactics than professional journalists employed because far fewer of them have the resources and/or corporate backing required to resist these legal challenges.

This type of ham-fisted, sue everyone approach is one Apple innovation I hope goes the way of their ill-fated Lisa product.

Update: Glenn Reynolds notes that GM's tactic, in similar circumstances, is to send in the goon squad first.


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Comments (15)

This ain't new. Apple and t... (Below threshold)

This ain't new. Apple and their legal team have threatened nearly every Mac rumor site at one time or another over the years. Their big problem is they cannot stop the employee leaks coming out of Infinity Loop, signed confidentiality agreements or not.

Suing bloggers sounds like ... (Below threshold)
jmaster:

Suing bloggers sounds like a bad thing, but I can understand Apples motives this time. The Wired article stresses the marketing hype aspects of the suits, but there are other real underlying business reasons to go after leakers. I have read that Apple is trying to find the person or people who broke an NDA.

For those who aren’t familiar, an NDA or non-disclosure agreement, is a legal agreement between two parties which states the neither will reveal the others confidential information. For the record, I am currently under NDA with Apple (and Dell, and a few similar companies). Also, I am an engineer and not a lawyer, so I might not have a handle on all the nuance and wording here, but I live in this world and play by these rules.

Confidential information can be of marginal importance, (like, IMO, the Corvette article Instapundit references). But such info can be a really big deal when patents are involved.

If Apple has developed some hot new technology, and it becomes public knowledge before a patent application is filed, Apple could in some cases lose all rights to the technology.

That could cost Apple millions of dollars over the long term. And if Apple is eventually granted a patent, that patent could be challenged by competitors (like Dell, Intel, Microsoft, etc) if they can prove that information was made public prematurely. At a bare minimum, Apple needs to show that they are making an attempt to protect their confidential information.

It can be a tough call deciding whether to risk negative public opinion while trying to protect your intellectual property. But it’s a fact of life. And I think Apple is playing it smart here.

pssst Kev, Think Secret isn... (Below threshold)
Paul:

pssst Kev, Think Secret isn't a blog and the two links you give are to 2 different lawsuits.

And BTW (to make matters worse) that Wired report is about as accurate as the one they wrote about us.

You may be interested to kn... (Below threshold)
SPG:

You may be interested to know that journalists are already beginning to write hit pieces intended to propagate the meme that "bloggers aren't real journalists!" For example, Bloggers Blue the Definition of Reporters' Privilege.

(OT: The "Subscribe to this... (Below threshold)
SPG:

(OT: The "Subscribe to this thread without commenting" feature below is busted, and has been for a while now.)

What jmaster wrote.... (Below threshold)
-S-:

What jmaster wrote.

"Sue first, and ask questio... (Below threshold)

"Sue first, and ask questions later" is corporate standard operating procedure. Remember also the Disney lawsuit against a daycare for painting pictures of their characters on the walls.

Bizarre is a good word for ... (Below threshold)

Bizarre is a good word for it. Don't tell anyone about our products or we'll sue your poor customer ass! Thank you, please come again!

Years ago Apple came to the educational institution where I work to hawk their latest machines and the company's advantages over IBM. They talked up how great and responsive they are to the needs of educators, and then they required us to sign an NDA to see what they wanted us to buy. This was stupid, since the whole point of going to the meeting was to discuss what I'd seen with my colleagues. They kicked me out from the latter half of the presentation because I wouldn't sign. Idiotic. I'm sure some NDAs are justified but that exeperience forever soured me on using them to restrict pre-release product information. (Especially near-term products like in this case.)

I'd hoped things had gotten a bit more sane under Jobs but it seems the lawyers amongst them are as obsessed with controlling all publicity as ever. Which is a shame, because they have nice products and a very devoted user base that won't always sit back and take abuse.

I don't think it'll have a chilling effect though. For every blogger or rumor site intimidated by a lawsuit there's another who laughs and posts even more juicy stuff, just on principle.

- The suit won't stand, any... (Below threshold)

- The suit won't stand, anymore than suing a gun manufacturer because one of their customers uses their products in a bank heist. The perps in this case are the leakers and Apple is trying any ploy it can to find out the name(s) of whoever violated the NDA, hoping legal pressure will force the websites to "out" their sources...Alls fair in love and intellectual property....

(Note to Kevin: Don't knock the Lisa. I spent many happy hours "playing" with the word processing/font/graphics engine, which was way ahead of its time in resolution and WYSIWIG. That mighty 2 Meg hard drive (wider than an IBM IIb), was the cats ass in its time.... *chuckle*)....

- BTW, that website flyer i... (Below threshold)

- BTW, that website flyer is referring to a later model...The first models had no harddrive option, but it did have an external harddrive connect. The company I worked for at the time bought the first harddrive upgrade as soon as it became available just a few months after the Lisa's initial release. It was 2 Meg, not 5. It sat on top of the monitor, weighed a ton, and was 2 3/4 inches high by the same width as the monitor, and was essentially useless since you could fill it up saving just a few pages of graphic intense copy.....

jmaster has got it right, d... (Below threshold)
Remy Logan:

jmaster has got it right, don't blame Apple (or Disney). According to copyright law if they don't aggresively protect their itnerests they will lose their rights to the copyrights.

Or as an IP attorney/weasel... (Below threshold)
jmaster:

Or as an IP attorney/weasel once told me (but never in writing, of course),“Sometimes its enough to APPEAR to defend your rights aggressively”......

This is disturbing but blog... (Below threshold)
patrick:

This is disturbing but bloggers should know that all states do not have sheild laws to protect the press, and I don't know if the federal government has these laws either. In Rhode Island Jim Taricani was sentenced to six months about a month ago for not revealing his source. So beware. If the issue is that you are not a reporter I believe that universal life church sells this title for a nominal fee

According to copyright l... (Below threshold)
SPG:

According to copyright law if they don't aggresively protect their itnerests they will lose their rights to the copyrights.

This is not true. Copyright law != trademark law. Companies must act on every incidence of trademark infringement they come across, but they're free to pick and choose which copyright violations they feel like fighting, if they feel like doing so at all.

Actually, this isn't a copy... (Below threshold)
BobsYourUncle:

Actually, this isn't a copyright or trademark issue, but a trade secrets issue.




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