Dumbing Down

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The initial judicial decision has arrived in Apple v. Does, and it’s bad news for computer hardware sites.

Essentially, somebody leaked advance information about a future Apple product to a few online websites. Apple considered that information to be a trade secret, and went to court to force the websites to disclose who gave them the information so Apple could sue them/have them prosecuted for a crime.

The court said, “You’re right, Apple. You had a trade secret, and some bad people revealed it. That’s a crime, and websites, I don’t know if you’re the “press” or not, but it doesn’t matter because not even the press has the right to break the law, and so what if people want to know these things ahead of time.”

If this decision holds up on appeal, what it will mean is that anything that is considered a trade secret under California law cannot be revealed with inpunity by any public publication, Internet or “regular” press.

This would most likely greatly diminish the amount of information available for a technology company’s future moves. Leaked roadmaps are the best example of this. If somebody handed Joe Website a roadmap or pricing data he just got at an Intel or AMD meeting, this decision would mean that Joe Website would have to tell Intel or AMD who gave it to him or face legal problems himself. This would mean precious few leaked roadmaps in the future.

While Intel and AMD are incorporated in the state of Delaware, both have headquarters in California, so it’s unclear whether or not this decision would or could be used by them.

Even worse, though, such a decision would have a chilling effect even on those not getting leaked information. For instance, I’ve never used information directly leaked to me in an article; anything I’ve written has been based on information publicly available elsewhere (and much of that certainly had been linked), along with some logic.

However, one man’s logic can look an awful lot like a leak to someone else. To that person, maybe I was able to fit the pieces of the puzzle from public information so well because somebody leaked me a picture of the puzzle. That’s never happened with me, but then, what else would you expect me to say?

So a technology company could quite possibly make my life miserable and expensive by making me prove that I didn’t get leaked information. At a minimum, that would mean giving the inquiring company access to all my emails (and I’d better forget the delete button), maybe turning my working computer over.

After doing that a few times, anybody would start becoming really reluctant to write those kinds of articles.

Yes, there’s a lot of complications I’m leaving out: jurisdiction, international ramifications, just to name two, but this is the gist of what would happen if this interpretation of the law stands.

I don’t know enough about the subject of trade secrets at the moment to intelligently speculate on the odds of this being upheld, but there’s two possibilities. Either an appellate court will say, “Judge, you’re crazy” and say something else, or that appellate court will say, “Judge, you’re right,” and you’re going to know a whole lot less about your hobby than you do now (or at least unless laws get changed).

This isn’t a “Internet journalists aren’t real journalists” decision. This isn’t a “journalists don’t have to pay any attention to the law” decision. This decision says that journalists can’t say anything about anything some company can put the name “trade secret” on, and in the case of some technology companies, that would likely mean anything and everything that doesn’t come out of their PR department.

That’s extreme, and bad news.



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