December 20th, 2007
Apple has settled a lawsuit with the popular Apple rumor blog Think Secret, which requires the blog to cease publication. This news, not surprisingly, has the blogosphere up in arms — certainly there is the appearance that Apple acted dictator-like in silencing a new voice of the Fourth Estate. As Mathew Ingram put it:
Meanwhile, Apple comes off looking like some power-crazed South American dictator, the kind who can’t stand it when the media reveal government secrets and so arrests the entire press corps.
But is revealing corporate trade secrets really the same as revealing government secrets? Does it really serve the public good in the same way? And I’m not talking about revealing corporate malfeasance, illegal activities, or information that shareholders of public companies have a right to know. I mean real TRADE SECRETS — does the public have the right to know such secrets? Do companies, like individuals, have a certain right to privacy?
Apple, for example, invents the iPhone, legally and without deceiving shareholders — does the public have the RIGHT to know before Apple chooses to announce it publicly? Or does Apple have the right to protect those trade secrets, even if it means “silencing” the press.
Certainly, my instinctive reaction is that a company shutting down a blog is not a good thing. But before I throw a brick through Apple’s window, I thought it was worth asking the question.
There’s a strong argument that the Think Secret blogger deserves the same protection as a journalist. That’s why I posed the question in terms of what journalists have a right to do.
Some great responses to my question in the comments below, but it still strikes me that this particular case is more complicated than the headline “Evil Apple Forces Think Secret To Shut Down, Threatens Journalism And Democracy” adequately captures. For example, from Ars Technica:
But the EFF’s Kurt Opsahl has a different perspective on why things went down the way they did, and what it means for the community. “I’m very happy to see that no sources were disclosed,” Opsahl told Ars.
He explained that Ciarelli had made a motion to have the case stricken under California’s Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws, which protect citizens from being held liable for exercising speech rights. “Apple was faced with losing the case and having to pay attorney’s fees,” explained Opsahl, which is likely part of the reason why it decided to settle instead of continuing to pursue it. As for Ciarelli, “We understand that Nick is very satisfied with the outcome of the case,” Opsahl said. “We hope that Apple learns a lesson over this.”