Monday, March 21, 2005

Apple, Suits, and the Press

In classic Silicon Valley PR fashion, John Markoff in today's NY Times spins a tiny issue - the Apple ruling - into a world-changing catalytic event similar to everything Apple Computer. Has. Ever. Done! Long live King Steve! The entire time I worked in Silicon Valley PR (all 9 months of it), I kept thinking, "Is this all there is?" How can so many have made so much by selling so little? But, there you have it. That's the game. So, here is Markoff (an old tech pro) today spinning a thousand words on how great Apple is, how strongly the Electronic Frontier Foundation is fighting, and how this how this ruling could effect bloggers and journalists. Everywhere! In reality, you've got one judge on one state who has narrowly defined the issue and said, journalism or no journalism, if you steal trade secrets it doesn't matter what you do with them. They're still stolen. And you have to let us know who sold or gave them to you. The real question here isn't a journalistic one. It's one affecting employees: What is the difference between revealing a trade secret and whistle blowing?

The judge said in his ruling that it's OK to reveal something as long as the revelation of the secret is "in the public interest" but how do you define that? And isn't reporting something for the good of the consumer base of the company "in the public interest"? Jonathan D. Glater in the Times writes:

Although Judge Kleinberg distinguished new product information from the whistle-blower who reveals that a company is polluting the public water supply his decision does not spell out when disclosures of a secret may serve a sufficiently great public interest to justify a reporter's protecting the identity of the person who revealed it.

"It suggests that not just for online journalists but for all journalists, the rules are different when you're talking about trade secrets," said Deirdre Mulligan, director for the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clink at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. "And is also constructs a fairly narrow notion of what's in the public interest."

Yes, for all journalists, the rules are different when you're talking about trade secrets and it will always be a challenge to define what exactly is in the public interest. But many journalists would argue that those rules are already different. We didn't need a few bloggers to come along and try to clarify this for us. What it does do, though, is bring to light that the courts may more narrowly define "trade secret" to be, in essence, anything that a company doesn't want revealed about a new product or plan without releasing the information itself. Does this decision open doors for new definitions of what can be written about? Possibly. But does it act as a redefining moment for journalists and bloggers across the US? No. No matter how much they may want it to be.

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