On Friday, The California Courts of Appeal issued a stinging defeat to Apple Computer when it overturned a 2005 lower court decision that would have forced bloggers to reveal their confidential sources. In December 2004, Apple sued two enthusiast Web sites for publishing information about minor Apple products only weeks before the products were publicly announced.
"Today's decision is a victory for the rights of journalists, whether online or offline, and for the public at large," said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is providing legal representation to the enthusiast Web sites. "The court has upheld the strong protections for the free flow of information to the press, and from the press to the public."
The appeals court also had some strong words for Apple. "We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news," the ruling reads. "Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace."
A trial court in California originally granted Apple's request to seek email records from the enthusiast Web sites in an effort to discover their sources. However, the appeals court overturned the ruling and decided that the Web sites were protected by California's reporter shield law and a constitutional privilege against disclosing confidential sources. Furthermore, Apple violated the federal Stored Communications Act when it attempted to subpoena email records from the Web sites' ISPs. "Under federal law, civil litigants can't subpoena your stored email from your service provider," EFF attorney Kevin Bankston said. "Today's decision is \[also\] a profound electronic privacy victory for everyone who uses email."
Apple refused to comment on the ruling. The company has a separate case pending against another enthusiast Web site.