Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blogs protected by the First Amendment

In December of 2004, following the publishing of several articles about a new Apple product called Asteroid, Apple Computer sued the two sites where the articles were published. Apple maintained that the information was a valuable trade secret and obtained an order from a court requiring that both sites, PowerPage and AppleInsider, provide any information that might help them to identify who was responsible for the disclosures.
The sites appealed, arguing that journalists were protected by both California law and the American Constitution against being compelled to reveal the identity of their sources, but…did online reporters have the same legal protections that those working in the offline world?
Apple said that they didn’t because they were not engaged in "legitimate journalistic activities" and that online journalists "were not among the class of journalists protected by the statute". The court, however, bluntly rejected both arguments (see the full ruling here).
First, it concluded that there was "no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news"; and then added that the statute is "intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news", which is precisely what the online sites were doing.
The court also found that online journalists were entitled to constitutional protections, saying that "we can see no sustainable basis to distinguish petitioners from the reporters, editors, and publishers who provide news to the public through traditional print and broadcast media […] it is established without contradiction that they gather, select, and prepare, for purposes of publication to a mass audience, information about current events of interest and concern to that audience…"
So, one issue is that the use of different technological means is irrelevant, but probably the most important one is the fact that what makes a journalist is not the affiliation but the activity to inform…

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