Friday, March 04, 2005

Why Apple, why?

I'm writing this on a Macintosh Powerbook. It is one of my two most prized possessions. At the moment, looking at it is making me nauseous.

I had read that Apple was suing three websites for releasing product information before it had been officially announced (see MacDailyNews for more background.)

What I just became aware of are the following facts reported by InformationWeek:

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. (Quote from InformationWeek.)

To be more specific about what Apple is claiming, let's look at an excerpt from a document Apple filed with the court that the EFF has posted on its website entitled Opposition to Motion for Protective Order:

Consistent with its limited purposes and scope, the Shield can be invoked only by certain enumerated newspersons... The choice of certain enumerated newspersons reflects the professional standards that define those classes.... Although the law has been repeatedly amended to include new forms of media, it has never been enlarged to cover posting information on a website. Persons who post such information, moreover, are not members of any professional community defined by standards and common practices. Indeed, anyone with a computer and Internet access could claim the Shield if O'Grady's arguments were accepted.

According to my grad school media law textbook, The First Amendment and the Fourth Estate (copyright 1997), the question of whether the 'institutitional press' has any greater rights than that of the public as a whole is still very much in question. One of the clearest reasons for not giving the institutional press greater protection was articulated by Chief Justice Warren Burger:

Burger foresaw difficulty in defining what was and was not included in the 'institutional press' if it were to be accorded special status. Including some entities while excluding others would be 'reminiscent of the abhorred licensing system' of England, which the First Amendment was meant, in part, to prevent. He noted that the Court had not, in related matters, allowed officials 'to distinguish the protected from the unprotected on the basis of such variables as content of expression, frequency or fervor of expression, or ownership of the technological means of dissemination.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if the Supreme Court doesn't make distinctions between the press and the public when applying First Amendment protections, it might be worth considering that they have a good reason (not that I'm uncategorically defending the Supreme Court, mind you.)

I always thought that one of the biggest threats to free speech on the net was that Microsoft controlled the user interface because of the overwhelming use of Internet Explorer. It seemed to me that gave them more power than I was comfortable with any company having over the Internet.

But what Apple is arguing in this case is reprehensible. How any technology company could suggest that free speech protections should not apply to the Internet is beyond me.

What in the world am I going to do with my Powerbook (let alone my iPod)?