Sunday, May 28, 2006

Apple v. Bloggers - Apple loses this round

A welcome ruling comes from a California appeals court (N.Y. Times story) that online reporters have the same rights as ink-stained or hairsprayed wretches.

This is the case of Apple suing bloggers who had great informants and were scopping Apple on its own product announcements. (For my earlier writings and thoughts, try here and here.) The appeals court ruled they are protected by California's shield law.

Quoting from the Times:

Apple had argued that Web sites publishing reports about Apple were not engaged in legitimate news gathering but rather were misappropriating trade secrets and violating copyrights. But in its ruling on Friday, the panel disagreed.

"Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners' enterprise, Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law's protection," the ruling states.

The appeals court tossed out a lower-court ruling that the bloggers were not protected when they published trade secrets. "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 generally," the first judge wrote.

But don't break out the champagne just yet. First, this is just California. Second, the stakes here are high for business -- and for journalists who have to cover business, which is just about everybody in some form these days. (You're a government reporter and don't think so? How about asking your local city or county manager how many private companies are now doing jobs, such as providing medical care at the jail or housing records, that used to be solely the city's or county's province.)

We're likely to see more litigation as the months and years go by, especially as people with specialized knowledge and contacts in these areas take to publishing more and more on the Internet. And, of course, Apple may well appeal. So far, it's not saying.

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