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Apple Wins Trade SecretsLegal Dispute
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - A California judge on Friday ruled that three independent online reporters may have to divulge confidential sources in a lawsuit brought by Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), ruling that there are no legal protections for those who publish a company's trade secrets.
Apple sued 25 employees who allegedly leaked confidential product information to three Web publishers. The Cupertino-based company said the leaks violated nondisclosure agreements and California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Company attorneys demanded that the reporters identify their sources.
The reporters sought a protective order against the subpoenas, saying that identifying sources would create a "chilling effect" that could erode the media's ability to report in the public's interest.
But Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in Apple's favor, saying that reporters who published "stolen property" weren't entitled to protections.
"What underlies this decision is the publishing of information that at this early stage of the litigation fits squarely within the definition of trade secret," Kleinberg wrote. "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."
Free speech advocates and attorneys for the reporters criticized the ruling, insisting that all journalists should enjoy the same legal protections as reporters in mainstream newsrooms. Among those are protections afforded under California's "shield" law, which is meant to protect journalists and encourage the publication of information in the public's interest.
"This opinion should be concerning to reporters of all stripes, especially those who report in the financial or trade press and are routinely reporting about companies and their products," said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kurt Opsahl, who represented the reporters.
NY times article
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties organization that represented the Web sites, called the ruling a blow to "constitutional rights," and said it would appeal. The organization argued that authors of Web sites were protected by California's shield law, which protects journalists who refuse to divulge sources.
Kurt Opsahl, staff lawyer with the foundation, said the ruling could have serious consequences on the rights of all journalists, not only those who write for Web sites.
"I had hoped the court would see it was important to protect the confidentiality of sources," he said. "It's very easy for a company to contend that any piece of information is a trade secret."