Big Business Sides with Apple against Web Sites

Semiconductor giant Intel and biotech giant Genentech have filed papers with Santa Clara County Superior Court in support of Apple Computeris efforts to force Mac sites to give up their sources for unannounced Apple products. Bloomberg News reported Thursday that the two corporate heavyweights had filed briefs supporting Appleis right to protect its trade secrets, a move that more clearly delineates this as a fight between Big Business and The Press.

At issue is Appleis legal efforts to gain access to e-mail records for the publishers of Think Secret, PowerPage, and AppleInsider to discover the sources of leaked information that resulted in those sites publishing news of various unannounced Apple products.

The company filed separate actions against the three sites, and in March of 2005, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled that PowerPage had to divulge its sources.

Defending PowerPage is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which appealed the decision. Since that time, a variety of traditional and new-media publishers have filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the California Court of Appeal to reverse the decision.

In the brief that was prepared by Grant Penrod of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, several news publishers and First Amendment organizations argued that the trial court incorrectly allowed trade secret law to trump First Amendment rights. The brief also said that Apple had failed to exhaust all other alternative sources for the information it sought before going after journalistsi sources, as required by reporteris privilege under the First Amendment.

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.

Earlier in April, another group, the Bear Flag League, a coalition of 80 bloggers, filed its own friend of the court brief in support of the EFFis position on the case that bloggers should have the same protections as traditional journalists.

The filings from Intel and Genentech, on the other hand, argue that there was no public interest being served by these stories, and that companies had to be able to protect their trade secrets.

"What happened here wasnit any kind of protected journalism," Steven Hirsch, a lawyer for Genentech, told Bloomberg News. "It was the posting of raw, unmediated stolen property to a Web site. Companies need to be able to take reasonable and limited steps to find out who is stealing their trade secrets and essentially destroying their value by having them posted to the Web."

We should note, too, that Arthur D. Levinson, Genentechis highly-respected chairman, has served on Appleis board of directors since 2000.

Intel spokesperson Chuck Malloy told Bloomberg, "Intel strongly supports First Amendment rights, and we do not doubt that the news media have an interest in protecting their sources. However, we believe that no public interest is served in having trade secrets involving unannounced products stolen and published broadly."

You can find additional information on the briefs filed in the Bloomberg News story, which was published Thursday by the New York Times. The Times requires free registration.

Brad Cook contributed to this story.