Amid all of my relentless Apple boosterism, I still feel it important to periodically speak out about where the company is wrong and where it behaves maliciously, a self-appointed duty of which I have not been particularly conscientious, admittedly. But, if you’ve got any streak of blue-blooded American fight in you, not to mention a hint of that brand of indignant pride for the primacy of the First Amendment in Our Way of Life, then it’s difficult to ignore this putrid lawsuit that Apple Computer has filed against several online journalists publishing their work on, well, Apple-boosting Web sites.
What transpired was this: before this past January’s Macworld Expo, several highly accurate rumors about then unannounced Apple products appeared at the rumor-based Web site Think Secret. Wasting little time, Apple quickly filed a lawsuit against the publisher of Think Secret and other “unnamed individuals,” ostensibly to smoke out the rumor sources but, in effect, attempting to put a chill on rumor activity in Apple fandom at large. (This particular lawsuit also happens to be just the latest in several similar actions the company has taken to protect its proprietary rights.)
This lawsuit, however, is a new kind of ugliness. On its surface, it has a bitter taste you might be inclined to take down with all the good that Apple brings into the world, were it not for its potentially ruinous outcomes. The argument that Apple is pursuing — that these individuals should not be afforded rights under the First Amendment because they are not “legitimate news sources” — is extreme. It draws a line between capitalized news organizations and independent news organizations, and it looks to defuse the protections of the First Amendment for every independent journalist or blogger using the Internet as her primary vehicle for expression.
If successful, its implications go beyond just the matter of these few individuals. But even if they did not, I find it unnerving to watch a huge corporation brings its might to bear against a small number of individuals whose industrious efforts are geared at nothing more than furthering Apple’s own glory.
It’s a safe wager to say Apple is counting on the idea that the legal affairs of public companies bore most people to distraction; they’ve calculated, certainly, that any damage done to public relations will be minimal, and such risk would be clearly mitigated by the benefit of chastened and sealed lips throughout their ship.
I hope they’re wrong. There are voices more prominent and more eloquent than mine that have already spoken out, and I hope they’re joined by more. I hope that there’s a loud and unhappy clamor all over the Internet that will become impossible to ignore in Cupertino before too long. And, as much as I care deeply for Apple and what it represents, and as much as I respect the superhuman talents of Steve Jobs, I hope they learn that this lawsuit is just bad business.