A California judge has ruled that online publishers covering Apple Computer can be forced to divulge their sources. The decision, by Judge James Kleinberg, was tentative and he will preside over a hearing on the issue Friday, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Apple has instituted legal action against three sites: PowerPage, AppleInsider, and ThinkSecret. The case has overtones of freedom to blog and First Amendment rights.
A central issue is whether the bloggers are journalists. ThinkSecret has generated the most attention--and the wrath of Apple. The Apple site is operated by Nicholas Ciarelli, a 19-year-old Harvard freshman, who uses the pseudonym "Nick dePlume" on his Web site. Ciarelli is also a reported for Harvard's student newspaper, the Crimson. Judge Kleinberg, of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, gave no explanation in issuing the tentative ruling.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has fought subpoenas issued by Apple against the three Web site operators, is scheduled to testify in the case Friday. "Compelled disclosure of journalists" sources would have a devastating effect on the free flow of information," EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl said, according to the Mercury. "It's the lifeblood of a functioning democracy. Therefore the courts have to understand the vital connection between the confidentiality of sources and the freedom of the press."
Apple maintains that California's Shield Law, which protects journalists from being forced to reveal sources, should not apply to Internet sites. In addition, the firm stated in court filings that free speech protections likewise should not apply to the three Internet sites.