Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A sour Apple?

Could someone have bitten Apple, Inc., off for more than he could chew?

Nicholas Ciarelli, who heads ThinkSecret, which is one of the web's most popular Macintosh rumor sites, shared at least two weeks before the company's official announcement details of Apple's iPod Shuffle and the revolutionary Mac mini.

Now Apple, Inc. has sued him, saying that he published information that Apple regards as trade secrets. According to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Apple is getting a lot of flak due to its decision.
"Apple has declined to comment except to say that 'our DNA is innovation, and the protection of our trade secrets is crucial to our success'. It also is showing no sign of withdrawing the suit despite the furore in the US media and on many internet forums."
It should be noted that Apple had threatened Ciarelli before over his disclosures on the web.

In his defense, Ciarelli has cited the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, posting on his website that "Apple's attempt to silence a small publication's news reporting presents a troubling affront to the protections of the First Amendment."

What is the First Amendment?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
— The First Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution

According to the FirstAmendmentCenter.org, without the First Amendment, "religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change."

It also cautions, however, that there are difficulties corresponding with this freedom. "Most people believe in the right to free speech, but debate whether it should cover flag-burning, hard-core rap and heavy-metal lyrics, tobacco advertising, hate speech, pornography, nude dancing, solicitation and various forms of symbolic speech."

My view of the matter is that this is exactly the problem. Journalists, for example, can cite the First Amendment as protection against suit when the information published is deemed of public interest.

But is Ciarelli a journalist? The Sydney Morning Herald article continues that "with the internet allowing anyone with a computer to publish whatever they like without hindrance, who is a legitimate journalist? Nobody suggests Mr Ciarelli is either unscrupulous or malicious, but concerns are rising about whether the First Amendment should be used to protect everything, good or evil, that is crammed on to the internet thinly disguised as "journalism".

Doesn't Apple have a right to protect its interests?