The Court of Appeal in California (Sixth Appellate District) has ruled in favor of Jason O’Grady in his dispute with Apple Computer. It’s a pretty resounding opinion (linked here (PDF)), covering a lot of ground, including trade secret, the Stored Communications Act, and various other issues related to whether a corporation can stop a publisher for disclosing information related to an intended product launch.
The Court held: “Apple Computer, Inc. (Apple), a manufacturer of computer hardware and software, brought this action alleging that persons unknown caused the wrongful publication on the World Wide Web of Apple’s secret plans to release a device that would facilitate the creation of digital live sound recordings on Apple computers. In an effort to identify the source of the disclosures, Apple sought and obtained authority to issue civil subpoenas to the publishers of the Web sites where the information appeared and to the email service provider for one of the publishers. The publishers moved for a protective order to prevent any such discovery. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the publishers had involved themselves in the unlawful misappropriation of a trade secret. We hold that this was error because (1) the subpoena to the email service provider cannot be enforced consistent with the plain terms of the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2712); (2) any subpoenas seeking unpublished information from petitioners would be unenforceable through contempt proceedings in light of the California reporter’s shield (Cal. Const., art. I, § 2, subd (b); Evid. Code, § 1070); and (3) discovery of petitioners’ sources is also barred on this record by the conditional constitutional privilege against compulsory disclosure of confidential sources (see Mitchell v. Superior Court (1984) 37 Cal.3d 268 (Mitchell)). Accordingly, we will issue a writ of mandate directing the trial court to grant the motion for a protective order.”
An interesting passage, about the public interest in this case: “Apple first contends that there is and can be no public interest in the disclosures here because ‘the public has no right to know a company’s trade secrets.’ Surely this statement cannot stand as a categorical proposition. As recent history illustrates, business entities may adopt secret practices that threaten not only their own survival and the investments of their shareholders but the welfare of a whole industry, sector, or community. Labeling such matters ‘confidential’ and ‘proprietary’ cannot drain them of compelling public interest. Timely disclosure might avert the infliction of unmeasured harm on many thousands of individuals, following in the noblest traditions, and serving the highest functions, of a free and vigilant press. It therefore cannot be declared that publication of ‘trade secrets’ is ipso facto outside the sphere of matters appropriately deemed of ‘great public importance.'”