In what is fast becoming a quite incredible farce, BBC News‘s Technology section reports that the Associated Press, together with 8 US newspapers, has filed a court brief in support of the “bloggers” Apple is currently suing for dissemination of trade secrets, on the basis that the case has wide-ranging implications for journalistic freedoms. It is hard to decide what is more worrying – that the AP would do such a thing or that the BBC would engage in such poor reporting.
There has been much on the web which has sought to portray the lawsuit as an attack on bloggers’ rights – more specifically, the right to freedom of speech – with Apple as an evil Goliath riding roughshod over one of the most sacrosanct bastions of democracy. Most peculiarly, the traditional press, sometimes all too content to dismiss bloggers as mere amateurs, has picked up this story and run with it. The news of this filing would seem to confirm the extent of their delusion.
In essence, the mischaracterisations in this saga are twofold – one, that Think Secret et al are bloggers; and two, that Apple’s unannounced products do not consitute trade secrets, rather that they fall under the category of something about which the public has “a right to know.” Chris Lawson of this publication has already debated the former point, so I shall not overly dwell on it, save to say that the distinction is not actually relevant to the case, for reasons which relate to the second point. The insistence on styling the defendants as bloggers and Apple’s suit as an attack on free speech may simply be an attempt to use the almost viral nature of story diffusion in the blogosphere to blacken Apple’s name and garner more support for this idiotic cause.
As to the second point – that of a “right to know”, the BBC article notes that the law offers protection to whistleblowers and the like and then cites from the brief:
“Recent corporate scandals involving WorldCom, Enron and the tobacco industry all undoubtedly involved the reporting of information that the companies involved would have preferred to remain unknown to the public.”
It should be clear to anyone that the leaking of product information is not in the same league as reporting on massive accounting fraud and suchlike. As John Gruber notes in an excellent analysis of the court’s discovery ruling, the need that is public’s “right to know” does not override trade secret laws, even if Think Secret, Power Page and Apple Insider can count amongst their readers members of the public who want to know what Apple’s next move is going to be. It hardly needs to be said that needs and wants are not the same.
The legislation which defines the public’s right to know is an important tool in maintaining a functioning democracy and a free press, as is the protection afforded to sources who divulge such information to journalists. It is disappointing to see it abused in this way.