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The Back Page - Dvorak: Apple Lawsuits are Threat to Free Press

by - March 16th, 2005

Apple's lawsuit against Think Secret, and its attempts to subpoena information from AppleInsider and PowerPage, are threats to a free press, according to curmudgeonly pundit John C. Dvorak. Long noted for his criticisms of, and occasional praise for, Apple, Mr. Dvorak sees a ruling from a California judge declaring the Web sites as not being legitimate members of the press as a slippery slope that may have enormous consequences.

"This legal issue will develop over the next few years," wrote Mr. Dvorak for Marketwatch, "but it does not bode well for a free press if you can declare one sort of information outlet legitimate, and another illegitimate."

Mr. Dvorak said that this could result in the press "having to pass a government standard," which could in turn lead to licensing.

"We don't need that since it would kill the free press and the substantial benefits to society that accrue from it," he said.

As noted by a Guest in the comments below, however, Mr. Dvorak doesn't quite have the ruling correct. Judge Kleinberg ruled that trade secrets are the important part of this equation, and that no one has the right to publish trade secrets where there is no public interest in doing so. I still think that's a slippery slope, even if Mr. Dvorak got his premise wrong.

I couldn't agree more, and intend to write more about the subject as soon as I can, but the short version is that whether or not the three Mac sites involved were right or wrong to publish information about Apple products in advance of their release, any ruling that declares online media as "illegitimate," which Apple has sought, or that trade secrets are more important than a free press, is simply devastating for the future of that free press.

The Internet has drastically lowered the barrier to entry for anyone to publish, and that is an incredibly democratizing force. Yes, a lot of crap comes with the good elements, but that's always the trade-off in democracy. If Apple can have this ruling stand, it is guaranteed that other big money, corporate, and political forces will go after other online publications, and that simply will have a chilling effect on this burgeoning thing we call the Internet.

Unfortunately, however, Mr. Dvorak couldn't let it go with a cogent commentary dealing with the free press. Adding in his trademarked dash of controversy, Mr. Dvorak also threw in the possibility that Apple's legal actions against the three sites could be part of a "liberal" attack on alternative media.

To back this up, he cited Apple CEO Steve Jobs' public declaration of support for former President Bill Clinton and the Democratic party, as well as the presence of former Democratic Vice President Al Gore on Apple's board of directors.

"It's a long shot," said Mr. Dvorak, "but this action against the Web sites may be a ploy to lessen the rights of online publishers so the right-wing and conservative publishers would have to be more circumspect."

And that will kill all rational debate on the issue of a free press, the only thing I think is important here, and instead turn every mention of Mr. Dvorak's column into a flamefest of idiots on the left and right. It's too bad he did so, but there you have it.

You can read more in the full column at Marketwatch.

[Update: The story was updated to reflect some factual issues brought up in the comments below. - Bryan]

began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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