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  • Apple’s Lawsuits: The Real Message

    March 26th, 2005

    To some extent, it appears to be business as usual at your favorite Mac rumor sites, despite the legal skirmishing over Apple’s lawsuits. But is the information becoming less reliable? It’s not as if you could always depend on what you read about future Apple products. Some of the stories have been shown to be downright wrong. But you have to wonder why those alleged anonymous sources would continue to feed information knowing Apple was breathing down their backs.

    If you read the articles at AppleInsider and Think Secret on a fairly regular basis, you’d think nothing has changed. For example, it correctly reported that Apple would acquire a small Canadian software publisher, Schema Software, several days before the transaction was officially announced. There are also stories about possible updates to Apple’s professional audio and video applications and the state of development of Tiger.

    Some of the stories at AppleInsider, though, would give you the impression it’s just an ordinary news site, such as news that Apple is now taking orders for its forthcoming iPod Camera Connector. That’s not a rumor, but something you can check for yourself just by visiting Apple’s online store. The news that investment banker Morgan Stanley estimates that the iPod halo effect would have twice the impact as previously predicted also fits into the news rather than rumor category. A story about an unannounced update for Panther is still there, but a status report on Tiger’s development carries the dire warning: “Article removed at the request of Apple Legal.” A similar notice appears beneath a Tiger story at still another rumor site, macosXrumors, where most of the recent stories consist of just plain news reports that you can learn about almost anywhere.

    Clearly those lawsuits, which raise the possibility of further action, have taken their toll. These two sites caved quickly when Apple turned on the legal screws.

    I also did a casual check at PowerPage and found that rumor reporting had been dialed down. In fact, all of the stories on its front page consisted of information that clearly fits within the category of news.

    Another site, Mac OS Rumors, seems to march to the beat of a different drummer, since it is more inclined to engage in far-out speculation than the rest. It’s batting average is usually much lower, which means it doesn’t appear to have sources as good as AppleInsider and Think Secret and thus isn’t facing legal consequences for publishing the wrong thing.

    So is this the beginning of the end of the world of Mac gossip? Clearly Apple has demonstrated it means business when its legal department makes a demand. Take an offending story down or risk a lawsuit, no ifs, ands or buts.

    Meanwhile, last week’s ruling by a Superior Court judge in California in favor of Apple’s right to subpoena the records of Mac rumor sites to find the identity of those anonymous sources is being appealed. This had been expected, as these lawsuits will ultimately create important case law, and you can bet the appeals process will take far longer than it did in the Terri Schiavo, since the courts are not being forced to decide whether someone lives or dies.

    In fact, I’ve known of civil cases that have dragged on for years, assuming both sides have the will and resources to keep things going. But, win or lose, Apple has definitely made its point. If you don’t abide by a request to remove a story about an unannounced Apple product, watch out. You may be the next to face the mother ship’s legal wrath. And the sources of such information? No, Apple isn’t going to send some goons to their homes to teach them a few lessons; the message is plain as day.

    If Apple loses, however, and those online journalists are truly protected by shield laws, then it will be open season on rumors. Now back in the early days at Apple, before Steve Jobs returned, it actually seemed that news leaked down from the top. You didn’t need a rumor site to find out what was going on, but the decision to clamp down and carefully control the information emanating from the company no doubt paid a huge role encouraging those sites to live long and prosper.

    I’m curious to see how this all plays out, but the answer may be a long time in coming. For now, if you want to get an historical perspective on Apple’s relationships with the media, you’ll want to listen to this weeks episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we’ll feature Owen Linzmayer, author of Apple Confidential 2.0.

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