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Judge rules that Nick Ciarelli's Thinksecret has to reveal its sources

Judge's ruling may force bloggers to reveal their sources in Apple lawsuit


James P. Kleinberg of the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, California has ruled that Apple Computer has the right to subpoena the names of sources and documents relating to confidential company information that was published late last year by three Web sites.

The Apple enthusiast and rumour websites are Thinksecret, appleinsider and powerpage. The suit was field by Apple against unnamed employees forleaking information on its music software Asteroid, and not directly against the websites. The websites said that identifying sources would create a "chilling effect" that could erode the media's ability to report in the public's interest.

The Judge said that Apple's interest in protecting its trade secrets outweighed the public's right to information about Apple and the right of bloggers to disseminate such information. 

The ruling has citizen journalism enthusiasts worried. Over the last couple of years, personal websites and blogs have begun to achive legitimacy as authentic forms of grassroots journalism, amd many believe dthat also enjoyed first emendment rights to protect their sources of information like newspapers and magazines.

However, the California judge's ruling skirted the question of whether the websites and blogs were protected by the same laws that the fourth estate. The judge, on the other hand, focused on the notion that the published information included trade secrets and was essentially stolen property.

The ruling came in the three-month-old lawsuit brought by Apple against the unnamed individuals, presumably Apple employees, who reportedly leaked information about new music software, code-named Asteroid, which the company said constituted a trade secret. Under California law, divulging trade secrets is subject to civil and criminal penalties.

In the course of discovery, Apple served a subpoena on, the e-mail service provider for PowerPage, seeking information and documents that might identify the source of the disclosure of Apple's new product. The Web sites sought to block that subpoena.

The case has been closely watched for its potential impact on the publishers of Web sites and bloggers, who say the privilege of reporters to protect their confidential sources should extend to online writers.

But Judge Kleinberg wrote that assuming Apple's accusations are true, the information is "stolen property, just as any physical item, such as a laptop computer containing the same information on its hard drive (or not) would be."

He went on to say that "the right to keep and maintain proprietary information as such is a right which the California Legislature and courts have long affirmed and which is essential to the future of technology and innovation."

As for Jason O'Grady, the publisher of PowerPage, and his claim to a journalist's privilege to protect confidential sources, the ruling said, "whether he fits the definition of a journalist, reporter, blogger or anything else need not be decided at this juncture for this fundamental reason: there is no license conferred on anyone to violate valid criminal laws."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties organization that represented the Web sites, called the judge's the ruling in the Apple suit a blow to "constitutional rights."


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