Apple loses court appeal against online journalists

Apple Computer’s case to obtain communication between unnamed sources that allegedly leaked information to two Internet sites was dealt a blow on Friday. The judge in the State of California Court of Appeal 6th Appellate District agreed with lawyers for PowerPage and AppleInsider who argued that the confidentiality of sources for the online journalists were protected by the First Amendment.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the rights of journalists, whether online or offline, and for the public at large,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, who argued the case before the appeals court last month. “The court has upheld the strong protections for the free flow of information to the press, and from the press to the public.”

The EFF’s case held that the online journalists have the same right to protect the confidentiality of their sources as offline reporters do.

Apple sued several unnamed individuals, referred to in court proceedings as “Does,” for leaking information about an upcoming product code-named “Asteroid” to the online news site PowerPage. To discover the identities of the Does, Apple subpoenaed PowerPage publisher Jason O’Grady’s ISP Nfox, demanding that the ISP turn over the communications and unpublished materials relating to the leak so as to reveal his sources.

The trial court ruled that when a journalist publishes information a company claims to be a trade secret, this nullifies any constitutional protections for the journalist’s confidential sources enjoyed.

The case has raised issues of what, exactly, constitutes a journalist, and whether or not a company’s right to protect its trade secrets outweigh first amendment protections.

In rendering his decision Judge Conrad Rushing said, “we can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish ‘legitimate’ from ‘illegitimate’ news. Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace.”

Apple representatives were not immediately available to comment on the story.

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