John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple Versus the Tech Blogs: A History

Now that the iPhone prototype caper has spawned a law enforcement investigation and it’s becoming clear that Apple (AAPL) hasn’t just let it slide (The district attorney for San Mateo County says it reported its iPhone prototype as stolen, not “lost”), a bit of history. After all, this latest flap isn’t the company’s first with the Fourth Estate. Apple’s gone to the mat with a few journalists before with varying degrees of success. Which is not to suggest that Apple plans to go after Gizmodo, just that it’s gone after sites like it in the past for far less serious infractions.

In May of 2006, an appeals court thwarted Apple’s efforts to determine who leaked information about Asteroid, a FireWire audio interface for its GarageBand music program, to O’Grady’s Power Page and Apple Insider. It ruled all three were protected under California’s Shield Law, which confers protections to journalists seeking to shield their sources.

“We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalis[m],’” the court wrote in its ruling.  “The Shield Law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here.  We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish “legitimate” from “illegitimate” news.”

Apple subsequently abandoned the case.

But in another, similar case, it wasn’t so easily dissuaded.

In December 2007, Apple managed to shut down Think Secret, a Mac rumor site it sued for misappropriation of trade secrets in 2005 after it pre-announced the Mac mini and the iLife ’05 software suite.

“Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides,” Think Secret said in a statement at the time. “As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published.”

A victory for Apple, then, though Think Secret’s attorney, Terry Gross of Gross & Belsky LLP, described it otherwise. “It’s clear that Apple filed the lawsuit with such fanfare, but then stopped the entire litigation because they thought they were going to lose, and that they’d end up paying a lot of money for it,” Gross said. “This shows that lawsuits like Apple’s can be stopped dead.”

Maybe, but not without consequence. After all, Think Secret is no more.

So Apple’s essentially one-for-two in these battles. Not a great record, but good enough, I imagine, to have the folks at Gizmodo and Gawker Media mulling the potential legal costs if if it turns out that the San Mateo District Attorney’s office does believe they committed a crime by buying the iPhone prototype and Apple brings civil charges against them as a result.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald