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News Publishers Urge Reversal in Apple Source Case

News Publishers Urge Reversal in Apple Source Case

by , 7:00 AM EDT, April 11th, 2005

A coalition of news publishers and two Internet industry trade associations filed friend-of-the-court briefs late last week urging the California Court of Appeal to protect the confidential sources of journalists and defend e-mail privacy in a lawsuit brought by Apple Computer against the Mac news sites O'Grady's PowerPage and AppleInsider.

In the brief that was prepared by Grant Penrod of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the news publishers argued that the trial court incorrectly allowed trade secret law to trump First Amendment rights, and that Apple has failed to exhaust all other alternative sources for the information it seeks before going after journalists' sources, as required by the reporter's privilege under the First Amendment.

On March 11, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled Jason O'Grady of O'Grady's PowerPage must divulge confidential sources saying Apple's interests in protecting its trade secrets outweighed the public interest in the information.

Signers of the brief included the Associated Press, the California First Amendment Coalition, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Copley Press, Freedom Communications, Inc., Hearst Corp., Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Company, San Jose Mercury News, Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Student Press Law Center.

The US Internet Industry Association and NetCoalition, which represent Internet companies including Internet service providers, search engines, portals, and hosting services, also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. The trade associations argued that the journalist's e-mail messages are protected under the federal Stored Communications Act. They further contend that if the trial court decision is not reversed, it will place an undue burden on service providers and will severely compromise email users' privacy.

On December 13, Apple filed suit against "Does 1-20" in a Santa Clara County district court. The company obtained a court order that allowed it to issue subpoenas to AppleInsider and PowerPage for the names of the "Does" who allegedly leaked the information in question. Journalists from PowerPage and AppleInsider had previously refused to release any information pertaining to the identities of their sources, citing first amendment protections and California's "shield" law, designed to protect journalists and encourage the publication of information in the public's interest.

Also named in the complaint was Mac site Think Secret. Although Apple first alleged Think Secret possessed trade secrets, it later admitted the site only linked to messages boards discussing the rumors of such a product and that those message boards were not owned by Think Secret.

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