Matthew’s column over at his Mac Enterprise blog makes one point which some of the more virulent "Apple is always right!" folks around the web should remember: journalists who cover other companies are always astonished at Apple’s mania for trade secrecy.
What’s more, it’s worth remembering that what goes for Apple also goes for any other company. Should Apple end up winning the two cases it’s involved in, it sets a precedent which will stifle legtimate coverage of other companies – and that may in fact sometimes be to Apple’s detriment.
Consider the following example. Suppose you’re a reporter, covering
Microsoft. Microsoft claims that it will be releasing a huge operating
system upgrade in Summer 2005, one which will revolutionise the world.
Corporations begin to plan around this, and some decide that, rather
than buy Macs now, they’ll wait for Microsoft’s UberOS.
You are contacted by a source, through an anonymous email link you
have on your website, who tells you that Microsoft is going to miss the
launch date, probably by months. He explains technical details of a
particular feature in order to show why MS is having problems. Through
other sources, you’re able to corroborate what he’s saying, so you know
Now the question is, do you write the story? Should Apple win both its cases,
the answer would have to be "No", because you’re relying on illegally obtained
trade secrets, and on a source which has clearly
broken an NDA.
Of course, I’m not just pulling this scenario out of a hat: it’s similar to the case of Longhorn, Microsoft’s UberOS which has been pushed back continually since its initial announcement. Thanks largely to the diligent work of reporters like Mary Jo Foley, customers were able to find out that Microsoft’s product plans weren’t all they were cracked up to be – and yet should Apple win both its cases, Microsoft would have every right to sue journalists, demanding both their sources and damages.
Remember, there’s no public interest defence in a case like this: Microsoft isn’t breaking the law by announcing a ship date and missing it. If that ship date slips, it’s under no obligation to reveal it, and, in fact, many around the web have argued that shipping dates – such as the date Apple will ship Tiger – are trade secrets too.
Although there are some corporate rights zealots who would argue that even in a case like this, Microsoft would have the right to conceal its "secrets", I suspect that the majority of the Mac fans who have been rooting for Apple wouldn’t. That’s because a lot of the passion in their argument comes not from an examination of the overall consequences of Apple winning these cases, but from a belief that Apple is somehow special: a unique company, for whom special rules should apply. That’s not the case: the weapons that Apple uses today against journalists could be used tomorrow by Microsoft, Ford, and every other corporate entity. Perhaps it’s time some of the Apple fans took a wider view.