Judge James Kleinberg of the Santa Clara Superior Court ruled that three Apple-fan websites violated Apple’s copyrights by publishing insider information about upcoming company products (Apple Can Demand Names of Bloggers, Judge Says). This ruling allows Apple to subpoena the names of the confidential Apple informants who provided the information to the websites. Some of the judge’s reasoning according to the Times article:
Judge Kleinberg wrote that assuming Apple’s accusations are true [that the informants are Apple employees], the information is “stolen property, just as any physical item, such as a laptop computer containing the same information on its hard drive (or not) would be.”
Here we go again. This is the same fahrstunteh (“nutcase” in Yiddish) argument used by record companies regarding music file-sharing: “you’re stealing our property.”
To me, Kleinberg’s argument is terribly one-sided and refuses to take into account the nature of the websites in question. They are not attempting to profit from their purported purloined information. They are Apple enthusiasts who want to share their love of Apple and its products with others. In this sense, the fan websites help build excitement among the general population for Apple’s innovations. It’s little different from the new car enthusiasts who try to photograph prototype car designs in order to share with fellow car hounds. They’re building brand recognition and loyalty by fueling people’s desire to know about things they love such as technology products or new cars:
“Apple suing its most enthusiastic fans is like the Grateful Dead suing its concert bootleg tape makers,” said Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif. Fan recordings have fueled that band’s popularity over the years. Mr. Saffo said the rumor mill had only helped Apple in the last 20 years.
If Apple were smart, they would try to build alliances with these sites and use them to build their marketing campaigns for these products, instead of making them enemies by suing them. In all this, Apple is going the litigious route of Microsoft in suing anyone and everyone who threatens them in even the most remote way. Apple is lucky it has such a devoted following because otherwise, this type of draconian, copyright-owner-take-all approach would sour people terribly.
Finally, I’ll close with Judge Kleinberg’s most incredulous statement:
[He] acknowledged that the public had a huge appetite for news about Apple, but said that “unlike the whistle-blower who discloses a health, safety or welfare hazard affecting all, or the government employee who reveals mismanagement or worse by our public officials,” the Web sites are “doing nothing more than feeding the public’s insatiable desire for information.”
First, what’s so bad about ‘feeding the public’s desire for information??” Isn’t that what the mainstream media does by definition? And isn’t feeding the public’s desire for information performing a positive societal role? I think the judge was trying to liken the fan sites to paparazzi who feed fans’ insatiable appetite for gossip. But the Apple fan sites are nothing like paparazzi because they’re not exploiting Apple for financial gain. Instead, they’re performing a public service by informing Apple consumers of new product lines and technological developments at the company. How could any reasonable person (sans Steve Jobs of course) say that’s a bad thing?
Happily, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the websites, says it will appeal the decision all the way to the California Supreme Court if necessary. If you own Apple products, let Steve Jobs know of your displeasure. You may write to Apple spokesperson, Steve Dowling to make your feelings known.