Hey, Apple: This Bites

Remember the story about the college-age blogger who was sued by Apple for publishing leaked information about future products? Apple Legal has managed to litigate him out of business:

Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret’s publisher, said “I’m pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits.”

That’s pretty awful if you ask me. Think Secret was a great site, and Nick was (and I assume still is) one hell of a good reporter. How the heck does it server Apple’s customers or shareholders to silence one of the most-read sites about, er, Apple products?

I love a lot of Apple’s products, but Steve Jobs’ ego combined with a hyperactive Apple Legal can add up to an amazing capacity for self-sabotage. Beyond that, this sets a really bad precedent for blogging and reporting in general. It says an organization with hefty enough legal resources can silence a reporter they don’t like.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for MSM condemnation of this outcome, of course. Newspapers and TV networks have legal departments of their own, and they’re just as likely to want the little guys silenced (or “regulated” into submission) as any other corporation that doesn’t like competition.

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8 Responses to “Hey, Apple: This Bites”

  1. Dean Esmay Says:

    I’ve been an Apple watcher for about 25 years now, and used to be in pretty tight with folks who worked on their engineering side, and I can tell you that Apple has always, always, ALWAYS had a strict veil of secrecy around upcoming and planned products–and that they don’t hesitate to fire any employee who blabs even small secrets, they’re so tight about it.

    So this is typical Apple behavior. Good or bad, they refuse to back down–they just do not like press leaks, period.

  2. Mr. Lion Says:

    If they allow a precedent to be set for pseudo-allowing that sort of thing, when someone comes along and leaks serious trade secrets, they’ll be in a much weaker legal position to deal with it.

    Fairly standard protect your stuff legal action, in my opinion. It’s Apple’s party, they have no obligation to allow people to scoop their official product releases, fun as it might be to read about them a few days early.

  3. Jeff Harrell Says:

    Wow, Will. No offense, but you’re really off the mark on this one.

    First of all, by definition Nick wasn’t a really good reporter. A really good reporter knows the difference between bending rules in pursuit of an important story and flat-out breaking them for no reason beyond mere entertainment value. He blatantly broke the law, and his only real excuse for it was that he didn’t know enough about journalism to know he was breaking the law.

    Second, there’s absolutely no “really bad precedent” here, because the only way a person or company can shut down a blogger, regardless of pocket-depth, is if that blogger does something that’s not even in a grey area, but in fact is completely against the law. That was true before, and it’s still true now. So this settlement establishes no precedent, bad or otherwise.

    I’ve written at length about this case on my site — without breaking any laws — so I won’t repeat myself here. The bottom line is that Ciarelli wanted to be treated like a journalist, so he was treated like a journalist. In this case, he was treated like a journalist who made an incredibly bad decision to ignore both ethics and the law, and had to live with the consequences.

  4. Will Collier Says:

    I don’t think so, Jeff. I just don’t buy that news about possible unreleased products (the alleged one that started this whole mess was never actually released) is a “trade secret.” It would have been a different matter entirely if, say, ThinkSecret had published schematics for an iPhone, or source code to OS X, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

    Certainly the Apple employees (full disclosure: I was one myself in 1993, but so far down the food chain that nobody ever would have thought to have me sign an NDI) who leaked stuff were subject to being fired and even sued, but I have never been remotely convinced that everything related to Apple products that haven’t been officially released yet rises to the level of a trade secret, no matter how much Apple Legal would like to push that interpretation.

  5. Denny F. Crane! Says:

    Will, you’re out of your frickin’ mind here.

    Apple has every right to protect it’s trade secrets, and I don’t know any rational person who would criticize them for doing so.

    Apple’s innovation is it’s stock in trade. Publishing leaks reduces the lag time between the release of Apple’s cool stuff, and the copy-cat Bill Gates-ish crap that invariably floods the market 6 months later. Someday, those leaks will evaporate, and maybe reverse, those lag times. It ain’t fair, and it ain’t legal.

    Nobody has a right to learn Apple’s unannounced plans. Nobody. Those who publish leaks should be punished like the leakers themselves.

  6. Denny F. Crane! Says:

    Oh, and you’re wrong about the distinction between unreleased products, and never-released products. The technology is theirs regardless of whether they ultimately release it, or whether they save it for possible future products, or scrap it altogether. Their innovation is not in the public domain, and anyone who swipes it and dumps it there should be prosecuted.

    Aren’t you an engineer? WTF are you thinking???

  7. Shane Says:

    Denny, I was under the impression that Apple could only enforce non-disclosure agreements and non-compete contracts on employees. Did Think Secret violate any laws that I’m not familiar with? Apple sued so that they could find the identities of which employees gave out the trade secrets, but they have no legal authority to silence a 3rd party – their only weapon was legal intimidation, which worked as a warning to others. In the end, the employees who DID violate a contractual agreement escape unpunished. In my opinion this is probably the worst possible outcome in this case.

  8. Jeff Harrell Says:

    Yes, Shane, Ciarelli did break a law, and it does sound like it’s one you’re not familiar with. If I have a contract with somebody, and you come along and offer me an inducement to break that contract (not sever or end it, but actually violate the terms of it) then you’re guilty of what’s called tortious interference.

    If I’m under a binding non-disclosure agreement and I come to you with secrets, then you haven’t broken any laws. But if you seek me out and offer me something in return for revealing secrets — which Ciarelli did, publicly promising anonymity on his site — then you’ve broken the law.

    I really don’t know why some people keep trying to spin this as a case of a big guy intimidating a little guy. What this really is is a case of a little guy not doing his homework first, breaking the law, getting caught and having to live with the consequences.

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