March 23, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO - Online journalists who published secrets about Apple Computer Inc. filed an appeal Tuesday in a case that could have broad implications for the media.
A California judge ruled March 11 that three independent online reporters may have to provide the identities of their confidential sources and that they weren't protected by "shield laws" that usually protect journalists.
In December, Apple sued 25 unnamed individuals, called "Does" and believed to be Apple employees, who leaked specifications about a product code-named "Asteroid" to Monish Bhatia, Jason O'Grady and another person who writes under the pseudonym Kasper Jade. Their articles appeared in the online publications Apple Insider and PowerPage.
The Cupertino-based company said the leaks and the published documents violated nondisclosure agreements and California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Company attorneys demanded that the reporters identify their sources.
The reporters sought a protective order against the subpoenas, saying that identifying sources would create a "chilling effect" that could erode the media's ability to report in the public's interest.
But Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in Apple's favor earlier this month, saying that reporters who published "stolen property" weren't entitled to protections.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing the journalists filed an appeal, as expected. They argued that the judge's ruling violated the First Amendment and that Apple should first subpoena its own employees or use sophisticated computer forensics to determine the sources of the leak before subpoenaing the journalists.
"The California courts have a long history of supporting and protecting the freedom of the press," said attorney Kurt Opsahl of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the journalists. "The Court of Appeal will now get the opportunity to correct a ruling that endangers all journalists."
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined specific comment on the appeal, but said: "Apple's DNA is innovation, and protection of trade secrets is crucial to our success."