Sunday, February 04, 2007

Apple Ordered To Pay Bloggers’ Legal Fees

This is an interesting case for bloggers. In a recent landmark case both establishing the status of blogs as news sites and protecting bloggers from being forced to disclose sources, Apple Inc. was ordered by a California court to reimburse defendants for their legal fees.

Apple attempted to subpoena Nfox, an email service provider, for the private email records of the defendants in order to trace who leaked information about their trade secrets.

The court decided the bloggers’ private records, and also their sources, were protected under more than one US federal law. Apple will have to do it another way if it wants to find out who leaked their trade secrets.

That lesson cost the Apple almost $700,000 in legal fee reimbursement.

The saga started in 2004 when two blogging websites, AppleInsider and PowerPage, wrote about the technical details of an in-development product codenamed “Asteroid.” Apple sought the identity of the sources who leaked the information by filing a suit against the bloggers, and subpoenaed their email records from email service provider Apple claimed that the write ups violated California’s trade secret laws.

The court ruled against Apple and ordered the company to pay the legal fees of the defendants, a development considered “a large moral victory for bloggers.”

This case brought out several salient points related to the status of the blogosphere: Are bloggers journalists? Are blogs considered news sites? Does a private firm have the right to wave the protection of journalists’ sources guaranteed by law?

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who headed the defense said the bloggers were journalists for purposes of opinion and maintained, based on the expert opinion of Prof Thomas Goldstein, former Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, that AppleInsider and PowerPage qualified as legitimate online news sites.

This is because the publishers, editors and authors connected with AppleInsider and PowerPage are engaged in trade journalism, bringing news to hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.

Furthermore, the court prevented Apple from accessing the email records of the defendants under the federal Stored Communications Act which forbids disclosure to private parties.

Although Apple claimed it had a right to protect its trade secrets, EFF “opposes Apple’s discovery method because the confidentiality of the media’s sources and unpublished information are critical means for all journalists to acquire information and communicate it to the public. Because today’s online journalists frequently depend on confidential sources to gather material, their ability to promise confidentiality is essential to maintaining the strength of independent media. Furthermore, the protections required by the First Amendment are necessary regardless of whether the journalist uses a third party for communications.”

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