Apple wins initial ruling in ‘Asteroid’ case, can pursue publishers’ confidential sources

In December 2004, Apple filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara county against unnamed individuals who allegedly leaked information about new Apple products to several online news sites, including AppleInsider and PowerPage. The articles at issue concerned a FireWire audio interface for GarageBand, codenamed “Asteroid” or “Q7.” In addition, Apple filed a separate trade secret suit against Think Secret on January 4, 2004.

“Apple Computer Inc. can force three online publishers to disclose where they got confidential information about new Apple products, a judge tentatively ruled,” Bloomberg News reports. Full article here.

“Apple is suing several unnamed individuals, called “Does,” who allegedly leaked information about an upcoming product code-named “Asteroid.” Apple has subpoenaed Nfox, the Internet service provider ( ISP ) for PowerPage.com publisher Jason O’Grady, demanding that the ISP turn over the communications and unpublished materials O’Grady obtained while he was gathering information for his articles about “Asteroid.” Apple has also been granted permission to issue subpoenas directly to EFF clients PowerPage and AppleInsider for similar information,” i-newswire.com explains here.

“Judge James Kleinberg of state court in San Jose, Calif., refused to shield the publishers from Apple’s inquiries. Lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that seeks to protect civil liberties related to technology, sought the order on behalf of the publishers. ‘We’re disappointed that the tentative ruling was a denial,’ said Kurt Opsahl, a lawyer for the foundation. He said he would appeal the ruling,'” The New York Times quotes Bloomberg here.

Apple had “agreed to hold off on serving subpoenas until after the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California, [had] held a hearing on the EFF’s request for a protective order for its clients, ” eWeek reported on February 16, 2005.

More about the case here.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Apple suspends legal action against three journalists – February 17, 2005
Stop the presses! Apple sues ThinkSecret over ‘Headless Mac,’ ‘iWork,’ and other rumors – January 05, 2005
Apple Computer sues three for posting Mac OS X ‘Tiger’ on Web – December 21, 2004
Apple sues anonymous people over leak of unreleased Apple product info on Web – December 17, 2004
RUMOR: Apple preps analog to FireWire audio device for GarageBand users – November 23, 2004

27 Comments

  1. I think Apple’s going to try and pin the leak on Tim Bucher so they don’t have to pay him the 9 Million in stock options he’s suing for in his wrongful termination suit. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  2. This is a horrible ruling. No “reporter” should ever have to reveal their source. Just another successful attack on our freedom in the era of FUD.

  3. “No “reporter” should ever have to reveal their source” No? Never? Why not? Who will defend us from reporters? Are they the new sacred chasta of the XXI Century?

  4. Since when is it considered good journalism to acquire secrets not yet announced and announce them? I thought journalists report news as it happens… not make the news up as they go along (true or not.)

    This is a computer company, not Area 51. There’s no conspiracy to discover. It’s also not a James Bond movie.

    It’s really quite bad for companies to have their “crown jewels” exposed before they are ready to announce them. This doesn’t apply just to Apple, but most other companies out there with competition.

    That said, I don’t mind the odd rumor or two, even some based on facts, but to get it so close to reality and steal thunder from product announcements which have lots of $$ attached, is just, well, selfish.

  5. I completely agree, this isn’t a murder case where the Mob Boss is trying to get a court to make a reporter tell him who turned him in. It’s about a guy who mistakenly calls himself an Apple supporter, yet steals private information from Apple then publishes it on the internet for personal gain. There should be no prtection for these people or their actions. There is even less reason to protect the people who broke their NDAs to spill the beans. For pete sake, it’s just common sense and decency. I’m glad the judge had some balls.

  6. I have to say that I’m ambivalent about this case in a number of ways…

    Firstly, I’m not sure I like the idea of the precedent that forcing “journalists” to reveal their sources sets – it simply doesn’t bode well for the greater good in a wider context.

    However, the right to “free speech” prevents Apple from pursuing alternative remedies – it cannot simply sue PowerPage, AI or Think Secret for publishing information that causes financial damage, because the “publication” will simply use First Amendment rights as a shield even if it is obvious that they must have come by that information from a privileged source who – by custom and practice – is more than likely to have been bound by an NDA.

    The problem here is almost one of an unrequited love: sites like AI, MDN et al are part of a community that has an almost obsessive need to see Apple’s innovations (and those of the surrounding ecosystem) in near real-time – but the community needs to understand that, in order to survive, Apple must be allowed to release information into the public domain at a pace which is dictated by Apple’s commercial needs rather than the needs of what I’ll call the Apple Groupie community.

    We, the Groupie Community, have to understand that there is no point in whining about Microsoft’s quarter-assed copying of OS X or iRiver’s inadequate plagiarism of the iPod whilst simultaneously encouraging TS, AI et al to distribute privileged information.

    In a nutshell, speculation about the company we love is one thing – leaking information that is 90% likely to be accurate is another. An example is the Portal Player announcement from yesterday – I don’t mind indulging in speculation about how that chip will show up in an Apple product, but I’d be disgusted if someone leaked Apple’s real plans when the end product could be months away from being shipped.

  7. Hey, if that jackass apologist Winston at CU can claim freedom of speech by saying everyone in the 2 towers, the 4 airliners, in the Pentagon and innocents on the ground all deserved to die and were little Eichmanns, maybe these puppies running Mac rumor sites should get a tinsey winsey break, eh?

  8. It is not uncommon for a reporter to have to reveal a source, and while some will go to jail in order to protect their source, they do not always have the right to protect their source. There is freedom of speech in the united states, but there is no protection documented or implied that you can say/write what you want without proof. That falls under slander/libel if it is negative and turns out false, and when you have signed an NDA falls under breech of contract when it turns out to be true. So dont give this whole freedom of the press/speech crap. Somone broke a law, and it could have hurt Apple financially, we dont know because we are not their accountants. So back off the case and realize they have the right to know who inside their corporation is leaking confidential information.

  9. Journalists get cut some slack if they engage in illegal activities to uncover the truth about illegal activities. For instance, listening to whistle-blowers about the tobacco industry even though these informants were potentially under NDA agreements with said industry. They do this because a crime is being committed, and the public has a right to know.

    So I applaud the rumor sites for their civic action of uncovering Apple’s unethical and illegal plan to introduce a FireWire mixer for their GarageBand product, and exposing it to the world. Apple should be ashamed of themselves.

  10. Apparently people do not understand the implications of requiring those who report information to reveal their souces.

    This is all part of a matrix of protection designed to keep those with power and influece from running roughshod over the rights of those less priveleged. Priests, doctors, lawyers, reporters, etc. are afforded the right to not reveal their sources so as to enable them to provide their service most effectively. When you take away these rights those with power will be unhindered in their ability to pry into the lives of us all (innocent as well as guilty). The “Patriot Act” is singular in its erosion of such privelege and this ruling is an extension of this line of thinking.

    Apple should most definately be able to keep secret what it deems sensitive and I hope they find the leak and take the appropriate action. But to require Think Secret or others to reveal their sources is not the just thing to do.

    I am sure Apple can find their leak/s in other ways rather than eroding basic rights and freedoms.

  11. Luckily for the defendants the CA courts are far and way the most OVERTURNED courts in the country. Hopefully the EFF will keep moving this up the line. Sadly, even the CA court of appeals, the 9th circuit, is constantly overturned as well, so this is a case that could reach the Supreme Court. The Supremes have ruled on this on many occassions and journalists are afforded a lot of 1st amendment leeway in such instances. Still, sucks to be the little guy up against the courts that are supported by the entertainment and tech companies that pay all the tax dollars in CA.

  12. Two Thoughts:

    1) I am glad I am not the judge over this issue. I see both sides of the story and frankly I have no idea how I feel about it.
    Personally I like the Rumor sites. I like to have an idea what is coming so I plan purchases, plus the feeling of anticipation is great. But I also enjoy going to MacWorld and Apple introduced something that no one even knew was coming. That made the MacWorld experience even better! Whatever the action, I hope those who broke laws (NDA’s) get caught, and those who didn’t (rumor sites) aren’t punished… Only time will tell.

    2) If you want to get rid of Pop-Up and Unders then do something about it. Opt-Out!
    http://www.fastclick.com/v4/safe_optout.go
    MDN posted this back when it first started. It has worked for me.

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